The North Norfolk coast is a wonderful place to see seals and, in one area, this breeding season has seen the highest number of Grey seals born since recording began. On Blakeney Point, which is a National Trust Nature Reserve, more than 3,000 pups were born in the winter at this, the largest Grey seal colony in England. Because it is a remote place, with little disturbance, it provides an ideal habitat for the seals to give birth in peace. Boat trips are available to see the colony and the animals don’t seem to mind humans on the water providing we don’t get too close.
Blakeney Point is also a breeding place for many seabirds, especially Sandwich and Little terns which return every year to nest. Like other terns they are very defensive about their nesting ground as anyone who has walked close to the colonies will know. You will be dive-bombed by the birds which often make contact with your head and have been known to draw blood!
Seabirds, as with much of our wildlife, are in decline and the RSPB has called for urgent action to protect them; there has been a 70% drop in numbers since the middle of the last century. Climate change, habitat destruction and plastic pollution, have all contributed to the reduction in population numbers. Many Seabirds cannot easily change their diet as they are at sea and eat what lives in it, so it is likely that competition with the fishing industry has also played a part in the decline.
Birds have been pairing up ready for the nesting season. Some, like swans, remain faithful to their mates for life, while others find a new mate every year or, as in the case of the Dunnock, also known as the Hedge sparrow, a variety of mates in one season; one nestful of these birds can have several fathers!
A bird, which is now extinct in England and only found in the islands in the far north and west of Scotland, may make a return. The Corncrake used to be a common rural bird but changes in farming methods have meant that breeding sites have been destroyed. The Norfolk nature reserve at Pensthorpe is working in conjunction with the RSPB and the Zoological Society of London to breed and release these birds in the hope that they will become established again. Corncrakes migrate to Africa for the winter but come back to breed in Europe in the spring. It is a hazardous journey and many fail to return; there are guns on the way! The one in the photo flew into Great Yarmouth town hall, probably lost on its way from Scotland to Africa; it was rescued and is now at the Pensthorpe reserve.
March can be a month when we have some more bad weather but we may also get warm spring days when hedgehogs will wake up from hibernation and will be out looking for food. I visited Marian Grime’s ’Hedgehog Haven’ in North Walsham where she is currently looking after fifty nine animals housed in a purpose built ‘hodgery’. Some were not heavy enough to hibernate for the winter, 600 grams is the optimum weight, and some have been injured or are ill. Marian is totally dedicated to her charges and would like to hear from anyone who lives in an ideal place where one could be released back into the wild when it is fit enough and the weather is warmer. She requests that some food is put out at night, under protection, in the hope that the hedgehog gets to it before the local cats and rats. Once the animal gets into the habit of being fed it should come to the feeding place every night. Eventually it will do what hedgehogs do naturally and find its food by foraging; ‘Spike’s Dinner’ is specially formulated for hedgehogs and can be bought at some pet shops or online or if you can’t find that, cat or dog food are good substitutes. These little animals, like much of our wildlife, are disappearing, so dedicated people like Marian are doing a worthwhile job. If you want to contact her about a sick or injured hog, or would like to offer a safe release place, her email address is email@example.com or Westover Veterinary Centre in North Walsham will put you in touch with her.
Bees are also in decline as loss of habitat, use of pesticides and disease have all taken their toll. Last year also saw extreme weather conditions which affected many of our pollinators, including Honeybees. The spring months are an important time for these little bees as they are feeding their developing larvae and rely on early flowers, in particular fruit tree blossom, for nectar and pollen and in the process of gathering do the vital job of pollination. Many of our food crops would not exist without being pollinated by insects and Honeybees are important members of the team.
A New Zealand biotech company has made an important discovery about an Australian masked bee. The nesting material it produces is very similar to cellophane and it is flame resistant, non-toxic and waterproof. The company, Humble Bee, is making a study of the material in the hope of being able to reproduce it artificially which, if they succeed, could see an end to the vast amounts of plastic the world produces. Initially, they see it as being used for outdoor wear and camping gear but, as it is very robust, it could eventually be used in construction, electronics and aviation; it is also acid resistant and could coat medicines that need to pass through the stomach, with its gastric acid, before they are absorbed by the body.
Things to do this month include:
• Pony health checks – Hickling Broad.
• Wild mammal tracking – Sheringham park.
• Making a willow bird feeder.
• Beach clean – both at Cley Marshes.
• Details: www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.
• Daffodil mile in Honing on the last Sunday of the month– starts at Honing Church
© Sheila Sims 2019