Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Balancing water levels for wetland habitat management

Even during our dry summer the site, before work started, was still very marshy
The area to the south of our reserve is predominately wetland with the lower section regularly being inundated by high tides. Over time the ditches that take water off these marshes have silted up and the old tile drains have collapsed.  This has prevented cattle getting into these areas to graze and therefore has changed the floral diversity of this area.
Getting in the diggers to re-profile the old ditches
 As part of the higher level stewardship scheme for farm payments we embarked on a project to reinstate these ditches and install a sluice gate.
The sluice was specially made for the job
Sandscale has seasonally fluctuating water levels and the amount of standing water present can vary dramatically across the seasons and from year on year.  The sluice gate will allow us to control water levels to ensure sufficient water for breeding natterjack toads and a balance of wetland plants and grassland species.
It took no time to put in place
The new walk way was installed for ease of access
The walk way over the ditch next to the sluice will allow access for the cows to cross the ditching system, so both sides can be grazed
The sluice gate in action
Before work began

After digging the ditch
In 2012 the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology initiated a new dip-well monitoring regime on the reserve and also analysed data from previous studies.  Over time this should provide key information to help inform water level management.
After work, with the sluice gate in place

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Stinky our Minke

The initial sighting of our whale
 On the 17th July  2014 a dog walker reported a dead whale that had washed up on the beach.  Having experienced reports of a killer whale the year before, which actually turned out to be a habour porpoise, we weren’t really expecting to find what we did.

In fact an 8.3m whale, which at this point believe to be a minke whale, had kicked the bucket and landed on our beach.
WDCS/Lucy Molleson
Minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales although still reaching a maximum of 9m. They feed by opening their mouths as they swim engulfing large amounts of water along with their food.  When the mouth is closed the water is pushed out through their baleen plates. As they have a relatively short baleen as well as krill and small fish, they can also catch larger fish such as cod and haddock.
For these reasons they are often seen in British waters where food is readily available to them.  Whilst many dead whales will just sink to the bottom of the sea, the high tides and heavy winds might have caused this one to become washed up.

The water table in the first burial was so high it made burying it a hard task.

So what do you do with a dead whale?
First port of call was the UK Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme funded by DEFRA.  They collate a range of information such as the date and location, along with the species, gender, length and condition of the animal.  All this data can go on to give the bigger picture of what is happening in the wider environment and gives a general indication of the health of cetacean populations.
 With everything recorded we had to decide what to do with it.  Many different organisations were contacted and through this networking a plan of action was made.  We were going to bury it.

So on the 25th July, just 8 days after it appeared, Stinky (as we have affectionately called it) was first shot and then cut open to release any gases, DNA samples taken and finally the carcass was buried using a large mechanical digger.  A post was placed in the ground marking the spot. 

The high tides have brought Stinky to the surface once again, but this time it's on the move
 Jump forward to Monday 11th August and we experience further high tides and heavy winds and… Stinky is back from the grave!  Every high tide sees Stinky move a little further down the beach towards the main family area and all we can do for now is watch.  As the tides begin to retreat we then fence the area off again and set a plan to rebury.

Second times a charm (hopefully!)
 Fortunately this time around the whale has come further towards the dunes where the water table is higher and the grave can be dug deeper as the sides are less likely to cave in.  So for the second time, we have a moments silence and hope that Stinky our Minke is finally laid to rest.
Bob watches as the chances of a smelly roll about, slip through his paws
The many dogs that visit our beach can now run free with owners knowing they are not heading straight for the whiff of death and the joy of a smelly roll!  Sorry pups!