Conservation project is great news for wildlife on the Broads!

Broads Tours gained a fascinating insight into an exciting environmental project and ground breaking ecological research when they helped to facilitate a special site visit to the Hoveton Great Broad restoration project for the Institute of Fisheries Management.

Hoveton Great Broad and the surrounding Bure Marshes nature reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is a fantastic wilderness area.  The broad has been cut off from boats for more than a century and can’t be reached by road.

Hoveton Great Broad can only be accessed by coming to special moorings on the river Bure.  A trip is certainly recommended as the broad and its surrounding marshes are home to many rare species including Swallowtail butterflies, Norfolk Hawker dragonflies, a colony of Common Terns and we have even seen Ospreys there recently.

Despite its good credentials Hoveton Great Broad has become very shallow, typically 2-3ft deep, due to sedimentation from algae, which forms a cloudy, sulphurous mud that is very difficult for plants to take root in.

Much of the Broads national park had pollution problems in the past with too much algae growing, due to artificial fertiliser and sewerage entering the water.  This clouded the water, which killed off many of the water plants and therefore deprived the waterways of oxygen and a place for insects to hide. Although this pollution (known as eutrophication) has been very successfully reduced the algae in the past fell to the bottom of the river and silted up the Broads with a mud which is inhospitable for plants to grow in.

Hoveton Great Broad has received £4.5m of national lottery and EU funding to resolve the siltation and eutrophication problem with a two part project, which was the subject of the Institute of Fisheries Management open day.

  • Firstly the broad will be dredged to remove the silt.  The silt will then be pumped to another area of the nature reserve, where it will create valuable new land for reed bed habitats, which are ideal for some of some of our endangered species including Swallowtail butterflies and Norfolk Hawker dragonflies.
  • Secondly a process of ‘natural engineering’ will be used called biomanipulation to reduce the algae in the water and make it clearer.   This will be achieved by removing about 75% of the fish in the broad.  This is because fish eat small plankton in the water called water fleas or daphnia.  The water fleas eat algae but are currently in low numbers because they have few plants to hide in and keep getting eaten by the fish.  So with many of the fish removed the water flea numbers will boom and this army of water fleas will eat most of the excess algae.
  • With a newly dredged bottom and clearer water (thanks to the water fleas) the broad will be restored and water plants should flourish again.   These will then provide a natural home for the water fleas to hide in and we can then return the fish to the broad.

Ground breaking research…Good news for fish!

Biomnapulation project have taken place successfully on the Broads in the past but always by physically removing the fish via electro fishing.  Now new research from the Environment Agency, which has helped us to understand fish movement like never before, suggests that we can simply have a fish barrier which we open like a farm gate when fish are moving out of the broad and shut behind them so that they can’t move on to the broad again.

The Environment Agency is using new echo sounding technology which shows fish under the water (see picture at the top of the article).  Although ‘fish finders’ have been used for many years the new systems are now so accurate that they shows the fish in incredible detail under the water, almost as if watching it on a video screen.  The Environment Agency’s research has involved setting the eco sounder up across the entrance to Hoveton Broad (as well as elsewhere on the Broads) and videoing this on a laptop for up to two weeks at a time.   This has provided a huge amount of new data and amazed the scientists with their findings!

The research shows that fish move far more than ever thought before.  In fact the images show tens of thousands of fish moving out of Hoveton Great Broad on to the river at night and back in to Hoveton Great Broad during the day time.  The videos are so dramatic that it almost looks like bats moving out of a cave at night and returning before daybreak.

This revolutionary new research is completely changing the way we look at fish movements and can be used for many applications.  Not only could it change the way fish are ‘passively removed’ at Hoveton Great Broad it could have lots of other uses.  For example many fish get killed in pumping station when the pump is switched on.  However now we know that fish are likely to vacate the pumping station at night we could only run pumps at night, when most of the fish have moved onto the river, and save a lot of fish deaths.

Adding to the research Norwich Pike Club (fishing club) were on hand at the open day to demonstrate their fish tagging project in partnership with the Environment Agency.  Members of the club measure, sex and then tag pike after they have been caught.  This show how the fish move around the Broads and grow if they are recaptured with the tag.

The whole open day proved a fascinating insight into preserving our special national park.  The Broads are now in the best ecological condition they have been in for years due to a lot of dedication from ecologists resolving pollution problems over the last thirty years. It was great to see this work continuing in new and exciting ways.

Rare sightings

Now is a wonderful time to be on the river.

What was suspected to be a pair of ospreys were spotted hovering above Hoveton Great Broad and Woodbastick recently by Skipper Tobi.  The fantastic fish eagles – with a 5 ft wingspan – were extinct in the UK until 1954 until a successful breeding programming on Lake Garten in the Cairngorms (Highlands of Scotland) encouraged them to return to Britain.  Although they do not breed on the Broads, ospreys have been visiting Cookshoot and Ranworth Broad in the spring and autumn for the last few years on their annual migration from West Africa and back.

fish eagle in flight shot from below

It is hoped that ospreys will eventually return to the Broads in greater numbers and perhaps even breed here in the future.  The Broad’s wilderness areas and abundant fish population offer the perfect habitat for the fish eagles and a special nest was even built on Ranworth Broad a couple of years ago to try to encourage them.

Another stunning sight – which we are seeing in increasing numbers at the moment – is the kingfisher.  They are usually seen as an electric blue flash flying fast and low over the water– so you have to be quick to spot them!  Fortunately kingfisher’s shrill whistle gives us some warning to keep our eyes peeled.

kingfisher standing on wooden platform with fish in mouth

One passenger who took a boat trip with us for his birthday and saw a kingfisher said the sighting was the best birthday present he could have had!

Perhaps the most impressive sighting, by our Skipper James, was four kingfishers sitting together on one branch, which is likely to be a pair of adults with two young.  James said: “I saw two kingfishers flying near the entrance to Wroxham Broad so slowed the boat down and gently went up to where they had landed amongst trees so that I didn’t frighten them.  To my surprise there were not two, but four kingfishers, perched one behind the other on a branch, which is a very rare sight indeed!”

Based on this sighting, one theory for why there are so many kingfishers being seen at the moment is that they are having late broods this year.  Kingfishers are also very sensitive to cold temperatures, so the snowy conditions we had in April followed by a hot summer may explain why we are seeing them in larger numbers later in the year.

One interesting fact about kingfishers is that their bright colouring is not due to pigmentation (in fact it is brown) but due to iridescence as light splits into blues and greens by the different layers of kingfishers’ feathers!

Another species of bird we are seeing a lot of at the moment is herons – particularly juvenile birds, which are distinct from their parents due to their greyer colouring.  We think this is because their parents are now pushing them out of the heronry to find their own territories.

heron standing on river bank looking out to water

Adult heron

juvenile heron walking along river bank

Juvinile heron – distinguished by its lighter pigmentation than the adult bird

 

In previous blogs we have expressed our concern that there doesn’t seem to be as many coots around as in previous years.  Well not anymore!

A large group of coots have flocked to Salhouse Broad as shown in these pictures.  They can be seen diving for freshwater muscles, which seem to be their main food source at the moment.

coots on the water

close up of coot on the water

A quirky sight we have noticed is swans displaying territorial behaviour by fluffing themselves up and seeing off other wildlife and rival swans.  Usually you would only expect this behaviour in the spring when they are breeding, but our theory is that because the daylight hours at this time of year are similar to the spring some of the birds are getting a little confused!

swans flying ahead of passenger trip boat

All of the cygnets in our swan families have done very well this year and many of them are starting to develop white feathers like their parents as shown in the picture below.

cygnet with white feather visible below grey plumage

We expect the cygnets to hang around like teenagers for a couple of years before pairing off and starting families of their own.

The greblets that we have followed in this blog since they were hatched in the spring have really grown up and are starting to become less distinct from their parents.  While the greblets used to look very different to the adult grebes (due to their cute black and white stripy faces and punk hairdos) the only thing that sets them apart now is that they have a slightly less vibrant, more grey head dress with less ginger as shown in the picture below – with the mother to the right and the greblet to the left.  The second picture below shows another greblet, looking quite grown up!

two great crested grebes on the water

great crested grebe on the water profile view

As you would expect, the greblets are becoming increasingly independent and are now spreading out on their own and fishing for themselves. One greblet has even been spotted up at Decoy Staithe, venturing far from his Salhouse hatching ground.

Another real hit with passengers is our growing otter population, which we are continuing to spot on a regular basis, particularly on the section of river between Wroxham and Hoveton Great Broad.  Some of our passengers got an unusually long glimpse of a female otter that emerged from the undergrowth near Hoveton Great Broad, just as Skipper Oli was turning his boat around in the middle of the river – what perfect timing!

Finally our bankside vegetation is providing a lovely splash of colour at this time of year with silver birch leaves turning golden and the berries of our riverside dog roses – rose hips – ripening into a deep red colour

silver birch on river bank

rosehips on river bank

Rose hips are known to be particularly high in Vitamin C and are commonly used as a herbal tea, and an oil is also extracted from the seeds.  While they have a number of medicinal properties they can also make delicious preserves and rose hip wine. Apparently in Sweden rose hip soup is popular!

Written by Oliver Franzen and Tobi Radcliffe

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First signs of autumn

Despite last week’s unseasonal heatwave, which boasted the highest September temperatures on record, we are now seeing the first signs of autumn creeping in.

Cormorants are gathering and Canada geese have disappeared.

3 comorants standing on a jetty

The reddening  berries of geulder rose are highlighting Wroxham Island  with ‘Hawes’,  Hawthorn berries, ripening on the banks further down river too.

hawthorn plant with many berries

The changing leaf colour is a typical sign of autumn and in the last few days we have noticed the paling of the dogwood- now turning a lime green-yellow instead of its rich summer green.   The reeds that line many of our river banks have also been flowering, showing their delightful red plume, which eventually fades to a silver colour later in the season, as shown in these lovely pictures taken by Skipper, Tobi.

close up of reed

close up of reeds

Perhaps surprisingly, wild hops are hanging from their creeping vines like singular grapes – lending a splash of pale, lime green amongst the bankside alder trees.

We all know that hops are used in in the brewing of ale, and Norfolk is known for its microbreweries. It is possibly for this reason that we see the wild hops growing on the edge of the river; one theory is that some seeds escaped while hops were being transported by wherries (an iconic trading vessel) hundreds of years ago!

wild hops

Yet, with summer temperatures staying with us, we are still seeing the last few damselflies, demoiselles and dragonflies around, with occasional specimen getting lost and finding themselves stranded in the wheelhouse of our trip boats!  Skipper Tobi found a Damselfly on the Queen of the Broads and managed to take this picture before returning it to the wild.

damselfly on window trim

A recent sighting in Wroxham village of a single Mandarin duck in mid malt indicates the migration of some birds taking place at this time of the year. In this case, the solitary duck seems to have got lost on its way, taken refuge in Wroxham for a couple of weeks before continuing its journey.

mandarin duck profile standing on river bank

mandarin duck on bank facing camera

This isn’t the first occasion of a lost bird in these parts; last winter we regularly saw a grey phalarope which had been blown off course. It stayed around for a week, gaining strength then continued on its way.

Don’t miss our next blog – out soon – for details of an increasing number of kingfishers, herons and coots as well as an update on how our young greblets and cygnets are growing up!

Words:  Oliver Franzen and Tobi Radcliffe

Pictures: Tobi Radcliffe

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When good Grebes go bad

This is the dramatic moment a Great Crested Grebe entered a vicious fight with a rival male to protect its young on Salhouse Broad.

two great crested grebes fighting

One of our skippers Oli who saw the unusual behaviour unfold on one of his boat trips, along with surprised passengers and fellow skipper Richard, explained: “A male Great Crested Grebe began to attack a female Grebe and her young. The father of the young had to move fast to protect them and entered into a really serious fight which involved several bouts of ‘face offs’ and attacks. Both Richard and I grabbed our cameras. Richard got an excellent video of the behaviour and I managed to take some still photos (as shown below).

two great crested grebes swimming towards each othertwo great crested grebes fighting in the watergreat crested grebes fighting in the watertwo great crested grebes and two grebelets in the water

“Over the next few days the other skippers and I witnessed several more fights between the Grebes and sadly one of the ‘Greblets’ was lost in this activity. The good news is that the aggressive male has now backed off and the remaining ‘Greblet’ is doing well.

“This is really unusual behaviour and no-one I have spoken to has ever seen this kind of thing before. We always think of Grebes as peaceful, elegant birds and this has put a whole new light on how we view them! Our best guess for the reason for the fights is that they were based on territory or breeding rights, but we would love to hear from anyone who could offer a better explanation.”

You can view the fight between the two males on this video:-

In more positive news the single ‘Greblet’ at the bottom end of Salhouse Broad is becoming increasingly independent. Earlier in the month we reported that the Greblet was diving and catching fish for itself and it is now venturing further than ever before as it has been spotted fishing a good half mile down river of Salhoue Broad near Woodbastwick Hall.

Our trip boat – The Cordon Rouge – seems to be a real hit with wildlife. Last month we reported that Swallows were feeding their young on top of the boat and now we have had another magical moment aboard this lovely vessel. A huge Brown Hawker dragonfly settling on the Cordon Rouge’s railings as shown on this magnificent picture taken by skipper, Tobi!

We are seeing a lot of dragonflys and damselflies on the river lately due to the hot, sunny weather and this close encounter was the cherry on the cake.

brown hawker dragonfly on rail inside passenger trip boat

On the subject of Swallows, large numbers of these agile birds are feeding vigorously on Wroxham Broad, in order to build up their calories before embarking on their epic journey back to Africa. We see particularly large numbers on cloudy days, when there are more insects to catch on the water.

We are also seeing more Cormorants than usual on Wroxham Island and Salhoue Broad. These protected sea birds, which have come inland to feed on the Broad’s plentiful fish supply, are being regularly spotted drying their wings on treetops after fishing.

cormorant standing on top of tree

Cormorants exhibit this behavior because unlike ducks, for example, they do not have oil glands to waterproof their feathers and so have to dry them out after fishing. It is thought that Cormorants lack oil glands in order to avoid catching air between their feathers, which would prevent them from diving as deeply or quickly through the water when at sea.

The Broads most majestic bird of prey, the Marsh Harrier, has been spotted around Decoy Staithe in the parish of Woodbastick by our skipper James recently. The largest of the harriers, it can be recognised by its long tail and light flight with wings held in a shallow ‘V’. The bird has made a remarkable comeback after being mercilessly persecuted for many years – but aside from being a magnificent sight – it is always reassuring to see as the raptor as its conservation status remains on the Amber watch list.

Finally Skipper Richard and crew Krissy and their passengers had a lovely view of an otter swimming across the entrance to Wroxham Broad a few days ago. It was a really special moment for Krissy as it was her first otter sighting in the area!

Written by Oliver Franzen

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Sealing the deal for our boat trips!

Excited passengers enjoyed a great view of a special surprise visitor recently – a grey seal!

The magnificent mammal was first spotted in Horning before working its way up river to Wroxham Broad. One of our trip boat skippers, Oli Franzen, explained: “From a distance I saw what appeared to be a huge otter swimming confidently down the middle of the river towards my trip boat. I explained to my passengers that this was very unusual for otters, which are usually a little shyer, and that the last time I saw this kind of behaviour (on the river Waveney at Beccles) it turned out to be a seal. But at the time the surprise visitor dived under the water before I could get close enough to be sure what it was.

“Later in the day the other skippers and I got a much closer look at the seal, which had swum onto Wroxham Broad and confirmed our suspicions!” Norfolk has a large seal population around its coast – particularly at Horsey and Blakney Point where there are large and fast expanding seal colonies – but for one to show up in Wroxham Broad is remarkable as it would have had to have swum 25 miles up the river Bure from Great Yarmouth. What would have driven the seal to do this remains a mystery and the seal has since vanished without a trace.

This is not the first time a seal has been spotted on the Broads this year. In May a seal hit the headlines a little further downstream on the river Bure after local photographer – Clive Eaton – captured a picture of the maritime mammal catching the usually fearsome Pike.

You can read the full story about this in the Eastern Daily Press by clicking here .

Another lovely surprise has been a new grebe family on Salhouse Broad. Visitors were already captivated by two families of Grebes on Salhouse Broad since the spring but a third pair of these delightful divers have now hatched two much smaller ‘Greblets’.

great crested grebe on water with two grebelets

The whole breeding process of Grebes is a wonderful show. Its starts with a courtship ‘mirror dance’ for the birds to bond before they pair off and build a floating nest to lay their eggs on (as the birds prefer not to come to land). When the little ‘Greblets’ hatch their mums and dads then carry them around on their backs, which must be one of the cutest sights on the Broads.

The other ‘Greblets’ on the Salhouse broad are growing up fast. The single ‘Greblet’ at the bottom end of Salhouse Broad, which was the first to hatch and has been followed closely on the blog, is becoming particularly independent and we have seen it not only diving but catching fish for itself.

great crested grebe on the water with one grebelet

The family of Coots, which we featured in previous blogs, are also growing up fast as shown in these pictures.

three coots on the water

Our families of swans – made up of three sets of six cygnets in Wroxham and Salhouse Broad plus a single cygnet hatched later in the season on Salhouse Little Broad – are also doing well as shown in these lovely pictures taken by Skipper Tobi:

swan on the water with three cygnetstwo swans on water with cgynets ducking their heads under the waterswan on the water with one cygnet

Another striking image taken by Skipper Oli is this Heron perching on the back of a Traditional River Cruiser sailing yacht during Wroxham Week – apparently it wasn’t deterred by being at one of the busiest sailing regattas held on the Norfolk Broads!

heron standing on sail of traditional sailing boat

Oli also caught this shot of another fish eater – the Cormorant – perching on Salhouse Broad.

comorant standing on the top branch of a tree

Finally, the bankside vegetation is also a delight to behold with hemp agrimony, greater willow herb and purple loosestrife turning the banks shades of pink and purple

hemp agrimony Hemp Agrimony great willow herb Great Willow Herb

Words Oliver Franzen Pictures: Tobi Radcliffe and Oliver Franzen

If you have taken any wildlife pictures on our trips we would love to share them on this blog. Simply send them to info@broads.co.uk or via Twitter @BroadsTours or Facebook by searching Broads Tours or Instagram norfolk_broads_direct