The Primary Objectives are:
To create and improve habitat for breeding waders and waterfowl, particularly Redshank and Shoveler.
To create and improve habitat for wintering and passage waterfowl and waders.
The Secondary Objectives are:
To increase the biodiversity of the site.
To provide public facilities for observation, enjoyment, education and understanding of the site and its wildlife (where they do not significantly compromise the primary objectives).
The reserve is managed under a High Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) and many of the following projects have been done under the scheme’s auspices:
Grazing started at low intensity with cattle on Keith’s Field in mid-June. A good hay crop was taken from the reserve in mid-July, with aftermath grazing by cattle and sheep through until late November (cattle primarily grazed the main lake grassland, with sheep grazing the middle and northern fields).
Fencing and Hedging
Selective trimming along roadside stretches of the boundary hedges was undertaken, in accordance with the Reserve’s Hedgerow Management Plan. Various repairs were undertaken on fencing, as the ageing fence posts were beginning to fail.
Ragwort and alien plant control
Ragwort control was undertaken by the volunteers involving eight-man days, with plants restricted to the designated core area, but excluded from all stock areas. This is accordance with the Reserve’s Ragwort Management Plan/the Ragwort Control Act (2003), to control and keep in check its presence on the site. It is worth noting that the Reserve hosts a healthy population of the Cinnabar moth, largely dependent on Ragwort, which is now a ‘Red List’ species. The invasive garden plant Alchemilla mollis in the Silt Lagoon area was again spot-treated with Round-up during late summer and in autumn, but remains a problem.
The Soft Rush on Wigeon Lawn was topped to halt its expansion. Due to mechanical issues the Horsetail on the Silt Lagoons was not topped this year.
Tree and Hedgerow Management
See Management Warden’s Report for details
The rabbit population on the Reserve continues to be controlled by trapping and ferreting, with some gassing carried out by the Tanfield Estate along the western boundary.
Monitoring and Surveys
The water level was below the minimum board level of 39 m all year, hovering around 38.5 m - un-heard of to date.
The monthly Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) counts have continued, the data being submitted electronically to the BTO.
Low shooting activities this year on the Reserve, roughly at a similar level to that of previous years - this does have a short-term impact, but there was no significant noticeable long-term effect.
The Reserve continues to attract a wide variety of visitors, from keen birdwatchers to families who come for a day in the countryside, whilst the new geo-caches on site have proved popular, with some very favourable comments received. However, visitor numbers were notably diminished due almost certainly to the low water levels and relative lack of birds. A minimum of 14 organised groups visited during the year (some unfortunately still do not contact us in advance), slightly less than 2016, including RSPB groups and various local natural history societies.
The first of these popular events was held on 12th/13th July, recording/counting the number of species (of all orders) seen over a 24-hour period. Some 50 people were involved during the day, from visitors to the Ecological Data staff manning the “Bio-blitz HQ”. The total of 628 species will increase when some outstanding insect identifications are finally received.
Simon gave several illustrated talks about the Reserve to various groups around Yorkshire.
The disastrously low water levels had a significant impact on the breeding success of this group of birds.
Seven species of wader bred on the Reserve with mixed fortunes. The 26 pairs of Lapwing were well down on 2016, nearly all failed, although at least 12 pairs attempted for a second time. Only 12 to 15 chicks finally fledged, the worst year for this species since the inception of the Reserve. No more than eight to ten pairs of Redshank were present, six broods were noted, from which eight chicks fledged. There were three nesting attempts by Avocet, two failed at the egg stage and just one chick fledged. Two pairs of Curlew bred, one pair hatching three young, but the outcome was unknown. A minimum of three to four pairs of Oystercatcher bred, from which two young fledged, whilst there were four breeding attempts by Ringed Plover, with just a single chick fledging. One pair of Little Ringed Plover attempted twice, again just fledging a single chick.
Like the waders, water levels had a significant impact on the success of some species.
Up to six pairs of Shoveler were present, with broods of eight and two ducklings, the latter fledging. Of the nine pairs of Gadwall on site, only five hatched young, of which at least 15 fledged. One pair of Tufted Duck had one brood, from which two fledged. Four pairs of Shelduck bred, from which 19 fledged. Two pairs of Great-crested Grebes bred, but just one young fledged. There was at least one breeding pair of Little Grebe but again, only one young fledged. Eight nesting attempts by Coot mostly failed, whilst in contrast, two pairs of Moorhen successfully fledged eight young.
Other Bird Species
At least two pairs of Linnet bred, likewise two pairs of Sedge Warbler were present, with evidence of at least one brood. Three singing male Lesser Whitethroat were present in early spring, but only one pair had three young - another poor year for hedgerow species. There were no broods of Tree Sparrow this year, but some may have been missed due to limited manpower. Large numbers of Skylark were present, territorial pairs numbered in high double figures, breeding was difficult to prove but it appeared to be a relatively successful year.
One pair of Barn Owl had a successful year, fledging four young (ringed).
The low water levels allowed Black-headed Gulls to breed on Cobble Island, with 74 nests counted although most failed and just a handful of young fledged. Nineteen Great Tit chicks were ringed from the nest boxes and two Stock Dove chicks fledged from the Oak tree box (after the Barn Owls had vacated!) and three Jackdaw chicks were ringed in the Willow box.
The total of 139 bird species recorded was well below normal, with no new species. However, there were a number of notable records including a Green-winged Teal in late April (probably the same individual as in 2016). A flock of 32 Waxwing was seen sporadically in the area from late January to early March. A Common Crane visited the Reserve at times between 8th and 10th May. A Temminck’s Stint was seen briefly on 2nd July before it was flushed. The low water levels affected the number of migrating waders, although the full ‘suite’ was represented, but only a single record of Spotted Redshank in May. Of note in the wider Nosterfield area and a first record for the Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society recording area, a Sabine’s Gull was present for five weeks from late June and enjoyed by hundreds of enthusiastic birders! Another first was a Dotterel, found amongst a large flock of Lapwing one November morning but it was flushed and not relocated. A Spoonbill was seen on two dates in June and July, whilst a drake Ring-necked Duck was seen late one February day. A Red-necked Phalarope was present very briefly in June, as was a Long-tailed Duck near the end of the year. In the first quarter, Wigeon numbers reached 560, whilst in the last quarter only achieved 300 – suppressed counts due to the excessively low water levels.
Butterflies and Dragonflies
A slight improvement on the Reserve for both these groups. Of the 24 species of butterfly recorded, highlights included up to nine Common Blue in the first flight period and 12 in the second, a distinct improvement on recent years. In contrast, there was just a single Holly Blue on 24th March! The peak count of the Elm-dependant White-letter Hairstreak was four on 23rd June. After several years with no records, Purple Hairstreak re-appeared, including a pair. Dingy Skipper was present from early May to early June, with a maximum of five. There were just two records of Painted Lady, but good numbers of Red Admiral with 15 on the Reserve. Counts of the Wall, a nationally decreasing species and of conservation concern, numbered seven in spring and six in August. There was a single record of Brown Argus in spring and two in the second brood in late summer, with two reports of Small Copper (two in August and one in early September). One fortunate observer found a Small Heath at Flasks Lake on 31st July, a first record for many years.
Ten species of dragonfly were noted, including several records of Emperor (up to four), whilst Four-spotted Chaser counts peaked at only six, but 45 Black-tailed Skimmers were present. A single male Broad-Bodied Chaser was seen on 14th June.
Other insect orders
During the year, 22 new species of moth were recorded across the Nosterfield sites, the total number of species recorded at the Reserve reached 533. Highlights were Oblique Carpet, Dark Umber, Dark Spectacle and 16 new species of micro-moth.
Green Tiger Beetle again frequented the tracks above the East Silt Lagoon and to the North Hide, whilst good numbers of Bloody-nosed Beetles were present along the eastern boundary.
There was a good display of Northern Marsh Orchid, high numbers of Bee Orchid, an excellent display of many hundreds of Common-spotted Orchid spikes, good numbers of Common Twayblade, but only a handful of Pyramidal Orchid. On the Silt Lagoons in autumn, four spikes of Autumn Ladies Tresses were found for the second successive year.
The western section of Nosterfield Quarry, which will be managed by LUCT under a lease agreement with Tarmac/CRH to be agreed shortly, hosted a family party of Otters, particularly in the reedbed. These enigmatic mustelids have become a regular attraction, with a bitch and two well grown cubs seen almost daily and occasionally a large dog Otter was present.
Despite a poor year due to the low water levels, for many orders the Reserve continues to deliver its ecological and community objectives.
LUCT Warden, February 2018