Dragonfly Hotspot

Damselfly image by Peter Hagger

We’re doubly celebrating the British Dragonfly Society’s (BDS) Dragonfly Week this year as Paxton Pits has been designated a Dragonfly Hotspot!

You can find 26 species of dragonfly and damselfly on the Reserve, a bumper number of species and worthy of Hotspot status, so we’re absolutely delighted to be designated by the BDS this July. We hope that this will raise awareness of our brilliant local Nature Reserve and give people yet another reason to cherish this wonderful place in the heart of Little Paxton.

Though we had planned a celebratory party for the summer, this has had to be postponed, like so many other things, until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. However you can still visit the Reserve to see what species you can find, and join in with our celebrations online by sharing pictures on our Flickr group or on Instagram using the #paxtonpits hashtag.

Find out more about Dragonfly Week 2020

Visitor Centre re-opened!

After being closed for virtually 4 months the Visitor Centre is reopening again, albeit on a limited basis. It will be open from 11am until 3pm on the 15th and 16th July, and again on the 22nd and 23rd July. Further times and dates will be announced as we go on, and we’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back into the space.

The Hunts District Council (HDC) team, and especially Robyn and Kirsty, have put a lot of work into making the Centre Covid-secure, with a one-way system and take-away drinks available only. Entry to the centre is via the back of the building which is clearly marked, and card payment is preferred on all purchases (no minimum spend!).

Please respect the measures we have put in place to protect the staff and volunteers, both in the Visitor Centre and also on your walks around the Reserve.

The Wildlife Trust BCN Education Centre will also be open to families again over the summer holidays, with a pre-booking system and strict measures in place to keep everyone safe. Debbie is really looking forward to welcoming people back, so do keep an eye on their Facebook Page for more information on how to book.

2019 Wildlife Report

Our annual report which gathers together all the sightings at the Paxton Pits complex over one year has now been published for 2019. Available to read on our website (along with reports from previous years), all the sightings have been gathered by volunteers, including for our WeBS and bird ringing surveys.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed sightings, taken part in wildlife surveys, and helped the Friends to produce this brilliant report.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

Huntingdonshire District Council have made the decision to close their Countryside Service Centres to the public. They will be reviewing this policy at the end of July. Therefore, the Visitor Centre, including the toilets, at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve remain closed

All Work Parties, Events and Wildlife Surveys will cease until further notice.

The paths will remain open but please keep your distance from other people who may be out for a walk while we are in quarantine.

Thank you for your understanding in these unprecedented times.

Wildlife gardening – top tips

Jim Stevenson, recently-retired Ranger for Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, shares his tips for gardening for wildlife, inspired by the work at Paxton Pits.

If you want good ideas to attract more wildlife to your garden, look no further than Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. Start in the wildlife garden or the Environmental Education Centre where (at Debbie Mckenzie’s request) we have created raised ponds, bug banks, raised beds, hedgehog lodgings, log-and-turf walls and bug hotels.

Here are a few ideas I have borrowed for my own garden:

  • Get rid of that old fence and plant a native hedge using blackthorn, hawthorn, spindle, cherry and field maple and reward yourself with blossom, berries, nuts and glorious autumn colours. 
  • Use winter trimmings to create a tidy habitat pile for bugs to hide in and birds to hunt in.
  • Make a log and turf bank for toads to winter in.
  • Keep some rotting logs or stumps for beetles and for fungi, as we do in Rory’s Wood. 
  • Make a mini pond: We bought some large pots (without holes in the bottom) and filled them with potato-sized beach pebbles before topping up with rain water. The pots are arranged in a cluster and we have planted small, emergent water plants in them. Frogs hide among the stones. 
  • Make a small raised pond. I would love to use an old galvanised cattle trough, but Matt the Senior Ranger says he still needs them for the cows and sheep. A coffin sized planter, packed at one end with bricks to support a few plants and then lined it with butyl rubber did the trick. It reflects the sky and attracts dragonflies and water boatmen. We have surrounded it on three sides with large pots so that frogs and newts can make their way over the rim. 
  • Plant for insects: Top Paxton plants for insects include knapweed, scabious and viper’s bugloss as well as the ubiquitous Buddleia or butterfly bush. You don’t have to use wild varieties and, by having a mix you can extend the flowering season as well as the range of colours. I have also tried sowing a patch with wildflower seeds (like the nectar mix we use in our arable fields) which worked well for me, and for the bees.
  • Make or buy a bug hotel: Those frames filled with hollow canes, reeds, fennel-stems and elder twigs are all the rage, and they work too. Mine has leaf cutter bees in it as well as other useful insects like lacewings and ladybirds. All you need is a hook one a sunny wall to hang it on. 

Looking wider afield, you can imitate any wild habitat from mountain top to sea-shore but it’s best to work with the local soil and climate. The University Botanical Gardens in Cambridge is a good place to get ideas or just go for a walk on any nature reserve, take a photo of a feature you would love to copy and set about making it.

And if you need inspiration and plants to buy, we’ve got a Plant Sale coming in May at the Visitor Centre, run by the Little Paxton Gardening Club where you can buy a brilliant selection of locally-grown plants.

(Don’t steal plants from the wild as it is illegal and works against what we should be trying to achieve.)

A shorter version of this blog was published in the February 2020 issue of Between Friends, the quartlery newsletter of the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. Join today!