Wildlife at the Avenue Washlands

Issue no. 55 – July 2014.

Word by The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

pond dipping

The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) manages 42 nature reserves across the county, performing a role to conserve and protect our wildlife. But did you know one of the newer reserves, The Avenue Washlands, is just over 3 miles away in Wingerworth, just south of Chesterfield on the A61.

And now is a great time to discover more about the reserve at the free, all-day wildlife ‘Dawn to Dusk’ extravaganza. The event, organised by the Chesterfield & NE Derbyshire Local Group, kicks off at 4:30am on Saturday 12 July with a dawn chorus walk, followed by a bird ringing demonstration, various wildlife walks (butterflies, plants, birds), and family activities such as bug hunts and pond dipping. Later there’s a bat walk, moth trapping and the day rounds off at 11pm with Star Identification. There will be plenty of activities for the children including bird box making, face painting and and refreshments will be available.

The land which was previously part of The Avenue Coking Works, was once described as one of the most contaminated sites in Europe. Working with the Homes and Communities Agency, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has helped create reed bed, ponds and other wetland habitats to develop the reserve. The Avenue, which opened in 2007, is owned by the Land Trust and managed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.cowslip

In 2013 it was named by the Land Trust as the ‘Best Environmental Space’ among its 50 parks and open spaces, a far more positive accolade than it previously received!

Today the Reserve is attracting a wide variety of wildlife including several species that are struggling elsewhere. Among these are grass snakes and water voles, although you will need both patience and some luck to spot these elusive creatures.

Even if you haven’t, there’s plenty of other wildlife to enjoy during a visit.

Bring a pair of binoculars and a bird identification book and take a walk along the level, surfaced path to one of the viewing screens, you might see a snipe, little grebe, mallard, black headed gull, heron, teal or tufted duck, while in the summer the reserve welcomes various warblers including willow, sedge and reed warblers and whitethroat and little ringed plover.

During August and September more than 1000 swallows descend on the reed bed each night to roost as they start their journey back to Africa – also bringing the odd Hobby with them. This small falcon has long wings and a streamlined body, making it perfectly evolved for catching birds such as swallows and martins, as well as the dragonflies that are also plentiful on warm summer days – including brown and southern hawkers and common darters. Hawkers are the largest and fastest flying dragonflies – catching insects mid-air and can hover or fly backwards. Common darters are small, narrow-bodied dragonflies which are on the wing from the end of June right through to October or even November in a warm autumn.

As well as the wetland habitats, a Living Bird Table has been created – a mix of wildflower seeds, sunflowers, quinoa and millet provide a source of winter food for the birds. Last autumn and winter it attracted reed buntings, yellowhammers, goldfinches and chaffinches, and around its edges, observant volunteers have discovered harvest mouse nests.

Visiting The Avenue Washlands: The main Reserve entrance is on Mill Lane, Wingerworth, S42 6NG. Roadside parking is available on Mill Lane, just past the houses. The Learning Centre and car park are open for groups only, by prior arrangement. For the Dawn to Dusk event, Rykneld Homes has kindly given permission for its car park to be used. If you are interested in helping out at the Reserve, weekend volunteer work parties are organised once a month by Stewart Abbott – contact him for more information on 07799 276357.

More details on the “Dawn to Dusk” event are available on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust website at www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk.   Please note that booking is required for some activities – contact DWT on 01773 881188.