Volunteers uplifted by ‘The Gloomy Trees’

Janet Prior reports on a new old find for the reserve…

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today you’ll never believe your eyes!  This was the situation for the mid-week volunteers who ventured into the woods to erect protective stock fencing in the east scrub area of the nature reserve during January.  

Their big surprise was to find two very old and gloomy looking Apple Trees.  The age of the trees is currently uncertain but the cankers and gnarly bark suggest that they have been slowly drifting into old age, unseen for many years. 

Although the trees were nick-named ‘The Gloomy Trees’, the effect on the volunteers was far from gloomy.  Everyone looked on them with amazement and felt uplifted having discovered these awesome veterans. 

One of the trees looks quite unhealthy as it has shed its lower limbs.  However, this phenomenon, known as ‘Summer branch drop’, and is associated with weather patterns is what trees do naturally in order to prolong their life.  Hopefully it’s not too late for this tree and we can look after and enjoy them both for many more years. 

Photos of The Gloomy Trees kindly provided by Matt Hall

Bird ringing report 2019

Derek Gruar introduces the 2019 report from the bird ringing and monitoring that takes place at Paxton Pits

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has used Constant Effort Site (CES) bird ringing to monitor the abundance, breeding success and survival of 24 common breeding songbirds since 1986. Paxton Pits Nature Reserve is one of over 140 sites across the UK that contributes data to this programme.

Monitoring is carried out by qualified volunteer bird ringers during the breeding season, with twelve visits between May and early September where the same nets are set for same standard length of time for each visit. At Paxton, we monitor the site with eight mist-nets totalling 140 metres in length that are set between 5.30-11.30am. 

The results are used to measure changing population sizes (comparing the number of adult birds caught each year) whilst the ratio of juvenile to adult captures provides a measure of breeding success. In addition to ringing new birds we also record data for all birds we recapture; those of adult birds ringed in previous years are used to estimate annual survival rates. 

Some birds ringed in 2019. L-R House Sparrow, Bullfinch, Reed Warbler.


In 2019, we conducted 15 bird ringing sessions at “The Sanctuary” at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. The first session was in early January and our standard CES monitoring began in May and continued until late August. 2019 proved to be another improvement on the previous two CES seasons. Post CES we managed to successfully target late summer migrants on three visits in September. The final session of the year was a demonstration event where visitors from the Friends of Paxton group were invited join us during the ringing session. Sadly, the poor weather in autumn prevented any further visits.

Over the year, mild winter conditions were replaced with cold and wet weather in late spring. We were fortunate that conditions had improved by the time the start of the 2019 CES ringing season was due. Fine and dry weather in May enabled resident species to raise broods with Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Robins making up the most of the early season catches. June however was quite wet which seemed to affect breeding warbler numbers, especially Blackcaps which were surprisingly absent. The record warmth of July seemed to suit Phylloscopus warblers with a record combined catch of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff on 21st July. Late summer saw an increase in thunderstorms and in August numbers of birds ringed were steady rather than spectacular. The highlight was the number of fledged Bullfinches. 

Overall, we succeeded in conducting ringing sessions on eleven of the twelve allocated time periods. A total of 346 new birds were ringed of 23 different species. This was a further improvement on 2018 as bird populations at Paxton seem to be recovering after the poor year in 2017. An average of 34 new birds ringed per visit is just above the 10 year mean.

Bird ringing news, September 2019

An update from our regular bird ringing team.

Three extra ringing sessions were carried out in September after the end of our normal annual monitoring programme. With no strict methodological constraints, we could set nets at different times of the day (no 4am alarm calls!). As these sessions came after the breeding season had finished, we could also play bird calls (via MP3 players) that attract birds into the area too. The first two sessions were on the afternoon/evening of 14th September and on the following morning.

The third session was held on Friday 20th September and was a thank you event for the Friends of Paxton Pits who have generously funded our ringing over the years. Many thanks to all the visitors who visited us during the day, we hope you enjoyed your day. I must also thank the RSPB for allowing myself and others the time to ensure we could carry out this event (we were allowed a day to undertake a conservation project or attend any of the youth climate strikes as a show of solidarity).

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The three session were blessed with fine weather, our plan was to target any late migrants especially Blackcap and Chiffchaff that use the sanctuary to feed up on the bountiful fruit and berries (once the ringers had stopped scoffing them). Both these species responded to calls on the MP3s set by nets which helped increase the catch.

Over the three sessions 143 new birds were ringed of 16 species with Blackcap and Chiffchaff contributing 67% of the catch! Single Garden and Reed Warblers were late migrants and two Coal Tits were very unexpected as only one has been ringed here since 2007.

Ringers for these sessions were: Derek Gruar, Maureen Reeves, Alan Garner, Andy Stanbury, Chantal MacLeod- Nolan, Saskia Wischnewski, Kevin Middleton, Alice Edwards and Viv Gruar scribed excellently.


We have been informed of a bird ringed on CES session 12 that has subsequently been recaptured by other ringers in the UK:


Ringed 26/08/19 Paxton Pits
Recaptured 10/09/19 Fields Heath, near Fawley, Hampshire, UK
177km SSW (15 days)

Paxton Pits Visitors – big and small!

Martin Runchman reflects on a recent visit to Paxton Pits.

After several days of heavy rain and overcast skies in June it was good to be able to make a visit to PPPNR, with the thought of an update on our summer visitors, the Terns, in my mind.

Having parked the car almost immediately I came across a whole other set of visitors, all hard at work.

A Cooperative Retail Management team were busy in the VC garden. A new flower bed was being built and a fresh coat of paint on the outside walls. Mark Bellamy the regional manager told me that 16 managers from around the local area including Little Paxton were working with the reserve head ranger, Matt Hall, on various jobs.

I quickly moved on as a hammer and nails appeared to be heading in my direction

With these visitors hard at work, and with gratitude for their hard work on my mind, I then encountered an even more joyful sight. Our Wildlife Trust colleagues had some dozen and more 4-5 year olds all with high vis jackets enjoying a nature play scheme. This sight just made me smile. A really great event and introducing children to the wonders of nature.

A few moments later a group of some 10 walkers were just beginning their walk which would take them right round the reserve.

So there we have it – an inspirational set of activities, and all taking place at our Reserve.

I did promise a Tern Raft update – and great news as some 30 plus Terns have been seen “sitting”, hopefully brooding eggs or young, and yes – several young chicks have also been seen. Fingers crossed for a bumper year. And thanks to all the Kingfisher Lottery Players for your support which makes our installation and maintenance of the tern rafts possible.