Kings Dyke Nature Reserve – Summer

Friday,
11th Sep, 2020

Summer at Kings Dyke Nature Reserve: reserve manager, Philip Parker, reveals some of the rare and not so rare species that can be found at the former London Brick claypit during the summer months.

Award-winning Kings Dyke Nature Reserve, near Peterborough, was established by Forterra in 1999 on the site of an old London Brick clay pit that fell into disuse in the 1970s.

Developed as an educational nature reserve for schools in the local community, the site benefits from a wide range of habitats, from open water and ponds to grasslands and bare open spaces. In 2018, Kings Dyke was named the most bio-diverse site in naturalist Chris Packham’s BioBlitz, recording 1,138 different species of wildlife in just 24 hours.

Here, in the first of new series of seasonal updates on Kings Dyke Nature Reserve, its manager, Philip Parker, gives us an insight into some of the work that goes into preparing the reserve for its wildlife – and human – summer visitors. But first, he explains the role of former claypits and quarries in providing a refuge for nature.

The role of former claypits and quarries in creating bio-diverse habitats

Claypits and quarries make a huge contribution to the environment in terms of bio-diversity. Prior to becoming quarries, the land would often have been farmland, which can offer significantly less bio-diversity. While often regarded as a blot on the landscape, at the end of their working lives quarries can make great nature reserves thanks to the diverse ground conditions and unique opportunity they present to create wonderfully diverse habitats for wildlife. When I first approached Forterra, back in 1995, with the idea of turning the old London Brick clay pit into a nature reserve, they were very supportive. We worked with local schools to develop the site in a way that would be useful to them in teaching children about nature and wildlife. 21 years on from opening, the site is still an important part of the local community.

Summer visitors to Kings Dyke Nature Reserve

Summer at Kings Dyke Nature Reserve is usually full of colour and activity. For obvious reasons, however, summer 2020 has been rather less typical. The period after Easter is usually one of the busiest times for the site’s open days and for school visits, with over 500 students – usually Key Stage 2, but some ‘A’ Level, too – visiting each year to enjoy a range of activities from pond dipping to fossil hunting. This year, Covid-19 restrictions has meant most of our usual activities involving schools and the public have had to be cancelled, but it’s been good to see the rest of nature carrying on as usual with our annual migrants making their way to us for nesting.

Summer migrants and nesting birds at the old London Brick claypit

The first of the summer bird migrants  – usually the Sand martins and the Chiffchaffs – arrive as early as March or April. Later in April, the Common Terns arrive to nest on the reserve’s islands along with cuckoos and a wide variety of summer migrant warblers. In early spring, we carry out weed control on the islands to ensure that they remain bare, ready for the arrival of nesting Waders and Terns, and then gradually use a pump to reduce water levels from the winter high.

Kings Dyke is an important habitat for the declining Wall Brown butterfly

Butterflies start to appear in number in April. This year, we have seen large numbers of Meadow Brown, Ringlet and three species of Skipper, as well as the Common Blue and Brown Argus. The reserve is an important habitat for the Wall Brown butterfly whose numbers have declined in many areas. It’s testament to the role of nature reserves such as Kings Dyke in enabling species such as this to not only survive but to thrive.

A wetland home for the uncommon variable damselfly

In May, dragonflies and damselflies start to appear, reaching peak numbers in mid-summer. Recent colonisers at Kings Dyke have been the Scarce Chaser, the Willow Emerald and in 2020 the Small Red-eyed damselfly. One of the reserve’s special species is the Variable Damselfly, which, although uncommon in mainland Britain, is present in large numbers at the reserve.

Kings Dyke in bloom

The reserve is a profusion of colour in summer as the range of plants and flowers reaches its peak. Best seen in early summer are the orchids of which we have several species. We have a lot of rare and scarce plants flowering in the summer, particularly in June and July. Among these is the insectivorous Greater Bladderwort that supplements its diet with unsuspecting small aquatic insects.

150 species of moth in a single night

Our all night moth trapping sessions are a fascinating way to spend a warm June or July night. Several of the reserve’s members usually come along to see the moths, although none of them has yet stuck it out for the duration! Our record is 150 species in a single night.

We use several light traps to attract the moths. This allows us to closely look at and photograph the moths to assist with their identification. We have also started using Pheromone lures to attract males of some of the day flying moths.

Summer management at Kings Dyke

The summer months are the quietest in terms of managing the reserve – most management works take place over the winter months to minimise the impact on wildlife. In the summer, work is usually limited to maintaining the vegetation along the paths to ensure they remain accessible. Normally, we would also be topping up the fossil area on a regular basis, but current circumstances has meant this hasn’t been possible or necessary with no school children visiting to fossil hunt. So, we shall continue to enjoy a quiet summer at Kings Dyke and look forward to what autumn has in store.

About Philip Parker

Philip Parker is an environmental consultant who has managed Kings Dyke Nature Reserve for Forterra since 1995.

About Kings Dyke Nature Reserve

Kings Dyke Nature Reserve, near Peterborough, offers a peaceful place to observe an abundance of wildlife as well as offering facilities and activities for visitors including:

  • Bird watching hides
  • Fossil hunting
  • Pond dipping
  • Informative nature trails
  • Elevated viewing areas
  • School and community group visits
  • Volunteer work parties
  • A wide range of member events throughout the year

For further information and for permit details, visit kingsdykenaturereserve.com