Part of the Paxton Pits complex is a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). A Management Plan has identified the species which the Pits could or does attract, and sets out how the Reserve will be managed for them.
Managing the Pits
Who’s responsible and who’s involved?
Huntingdonshire District Council’s Countryside Services is responsible for the Reserve. The Reserve’s Ranger manages the Reserve according to the Management Agreement under the terms of the Local Nature Reserve (LNR) designation (1988). The Agreement originally involved two companies, (the companies now called Aggregate Industries and Lafarge Redland Aggregates), but in 1994 the District Council purchased the part of the Reserve owned by Aggregate Industries.
The Ranger is advised by the Management Group, which includes local experts, Natural England, landowners within the LNR, The Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, the Volunteer Warden Coordinator and the two companies. A User Group with a wider constituency also provides feedback and advice to the District Council.
A Management Plan guides the management of the Reserve for 1999-2009; a copy is available at the Visitor Centre.
What’s the aim of management?
The overall aim for the Paxton Pits area is to safeguard and enhance the value of the area for wildlife and for people.
The objective of habitat management is to retain and develop the mosaic of habitats within the SSSI and surrounding area and specifically to encourage wetland, sand and gravel, and scrub and woody vegetation habitats which are of most significance for biodiversity, both on a local and national scale.
Who does the work?
Funded by Huntingdonshire District Council, the Ranger carries out the core of the work, with much assistance from volunteers: the Volunteer Warden Scheme, The Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve and RSPB Working Parties, mid-week volunteers, BTCV, etc. The Friends also provides funds for specific projects.
Habitat management stops during the breeding and growing seasons (March to September), though the rangers keep paths clear and mow vigorous growth during midsummer. This is the time to repair fencing, waymarkers and platforms. It’s also the time to gather information about breeding wildlife.
See what we’ve been doing
Much of the management work goes on ‘behind-the-scenes’, in ponds, scrub and willow away from the main paths. But some of the work has been done close to paths. Take a look…
Cloudy Pond. View from the Ouse Valley Way, by the gravel ‘beach’.
Willows and sycamores have been dug out of a stagnant pond, to form a larger, more permanent pond. This will encourage bankside and aquatic plants and a healthier population of insects and should also attract amphibians that were once in this area. We have made a path and a pond-dipping platform for children.
Heronry Lake. View from Heronry Trail.
Gaps in the vegetation surrounding the lake have been closed, to improve safety for visitors and to reduce disturbance of waterfowl. To the east of Heronry South, in the hawthorn scrub, patches of grass and scrub is cut every few years so that it will be of different heights, in order to encourage a greater variety of flowers and insects. In turn, this should benefit ground-feeding birds. Scrub is controlled in order to maintain the open aspect of this coarse grassland.
The Triangle. View from Haul Road.
The ‘ride’ in the wooded area has been ‘scalloped’ (cutting alternate sides in rotation), enabling enhanced growth of flowers in the summer, particularly close to the Haul Road. We have removed non-native Turkey oaks from this area, and planted ash, hazel and oak in their place, though there is some natural regeneration in the clearings.
The Meadow. View from Meadow Trail and from the Visitor Centre.
Mature willows are being coppiced or pollarded along the eastern edge of the meadow in order to encourage the growth of younger trees, including alders. Some of the bramble and other scrub is removed to ensure that orchids and angelica are not lost. To the south, some sycamores are being removed from Hayling Lake in order to encourage ground flowers along the lake edge.
Dodder Fen and the ferry backwater. View from the Ouse Valley Way, just south of the Moorings
Dodder Fen is a low-lying area which runs alongside the River Great Ouse . It is occasionally flooded and is home to the nationally rare plant great dodder. It is a parasitic plant - it is thought that stinging nettle is its main host plant, but it has been also seen growing on marsh woundwort. There are trial plots in Dodder Fen near to areas of great dodder which are managed by cutting and raking off the vegetation and disturbing the soil to expose seeds. This is to encourage more variety of wildflowers and invertebrates to these areas, and to see how the dodder responds. In addition, each year in rotation 15% of Dodder Fen is cut and raked off.
Volunteers fencing the arable field (Jim Stevenson)
Volunteers clearing scrub from the reedbed (Jim Stevenson)
Digging the ditches on Great Meadow (Jim Stevenson)
In October 2001, a major purchase by Huntingdonshire District Council supported by The Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, extended the Nature Reserve to 75 hectares. The land is now being managed to benefit wildlife as part of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme funded by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). Already the scheme is bringing exciting new wildlife potential to the area in the middle of the reserve. Records of harvest mice, yellowhammers and corn buntings are already success stories of the scheme.
Three areas of the Reserve are being managed under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. As well as Dodder Fen, these are the Great Meadow which runs along the River Great Ouse and seven hectares of Arable Fields. These areas can easily be viewed from the River Trail, the Ouse Valley Way and the Heron Trail. The field closest to the Heron Trail has been dedicated to the late Reverend Peter Lewis, vicar of Little Paxton, Diddington and Southoe until 1996 and a voluntary warden, enthusiastic working party volunteer, and member of The Friends committee.
For more up-to-date news on happenings at the Pits, see the Ranger’s Report.
Out for the count
Essential to the success of management work is monitoring the wildlife which uses the Pits. The Rangers and local volunteer experts carry out this work. For example, 25 people undertake a Breeding Bird Survey every spring, to help track the trends in birdlife around the complex, and another team makes monthly counts of wildfowl through the winter (the Wetland Bird Survey). Collation and analysis of ornithological data is undertaken entirely by volunteers.
Other volunteers monitor some other taxa, including butterflies, moths, dragonflies, plants and fungi.
Information from visitors is always welcome. If you see something on the Reserve, especially mammals, amphibians and reptiles (grass snake is the only confirmed reptile species on the reserve), or you make a count of species at Paxton Pits, please let us know. If the Visitor Centre is open, record it in the book; otherwise, e-mail with the information (including date and as precise a location as possible).