COUNTRYSIDE NOTES SURPRISING NATURE RESERVES February 2020
There is always local opposition when a new motorway or road is planned especially in relation to wildlife and yet once construction is completed the verges and embankments become mini nature reserves. They are very often set with plants and berried shrubs sympathetic to wildlife and popular with birds, Guelder rose being one. Bull finches and waxwings are two species which love the berries when they get soft and sticky. As a finishing touch to new roads many local Councils seed parts of the verges and embankments with wild flowers beneficial to bees such as cowslips and oxeye daisies. In time naturally growing plants will become established providing a habitat for a variety of insects and winter food for birds. Because these roads are part of a network designed to keep traffic moving as quickly as possible the roadsides are left pretty much undisturbed. Muntjac, a small species of deer that live in forests, can frequently be seen feeding on road verges, notably the A134 Mundford to Thetford road. Mice, voles and rabbits make their home in untrimmed roadside vegetation and are all a food source for birds of prey. The population of voles fluctuates from year to year and is reflected in the breeding success rate of barn owls and kestrels, common locally but which are on the conservation amber list as in many places there numbers are declining. These two species are very dependent on voles. Sadly road casualties occur such as hedgehogs and barn owls but this is an indication of the numbers attracted to the adjacent rich source of food. There must also be millions of unseen insects killed by traffic each year. Another unexpected nature reserve can be found close to some major road junctions. There, lagoons have been constructed to collect surface water to prevent the roads from flooding. Even though this is probably polluted it still attracts wildlife and in dry times can provide an important source of water. The lagoons are often inaccessible to the public and, in time, natural vegetation grows round them making them a haven for all kinds of birds, amphibians and water loving insects. Locally, the Hardwick Flood Lagoon attracts migrants of all kinds who drop in for an undisturbed rest on their journeys. Besides gulls, which are only to be expected, more uncommon visitors recorded are wigeon, little grebes, a family of rare black-necked grebes, avocets, black-tailed godwits, sandpipers, yellow wagtail, greenshank and golden and ringed plovers. It is no coincidence that owls are often associated with churchyards for they provide a secluded home to mice and voles, their primary source of food. There is minimal disturbance to church yards, and wild plants and insects also thrive in that environment. Many churches are inhabited by bats; at least eight of the seventeen species of bats breeding in Britain have been recorded as roosting in churches. They are not always welcome guests but because they are legally protected their roost sites are mostly left undisturbed.