My first year at UEA is over, which inevitably means it’s time for reflection. It won’t come as a surprise that I joined the university’s Conservation and Wildlife Society. Through it, I’ve become acquainted with one particular reserve via our volunteering efforts. I refer to Buxton Heath.
Buxton Heath is a commons managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It is mostly dry lowland heath, but also has extensive areas of wet heath, rough pasture, bog and birch scrub. In recent years, however, there has been concern about this particular habitat overtaking others, and to combat this it frequently deploys the Conservation and Wildlife Society.
I’ve participated in a variety of activities in my first year, including cutting down birch saplings, creating bonfires of branches and digging ponds. The first few Saturdays in which I volunteered were in the winter, and I will freely admit that, at that time of year, the heath can be a dreary place: even without the downpours I had to endure, it’s cold, colourless and seemingly lacking in any sort of life. But come Spring, the flowers emerge, colour returns to the trees and Buxton Heath becomes very inviting indeed.
This is in a large part due to the birdlife. Woodcock and snipe can be seen all year round, in no small part due to the aforementioned pond-digging that the Conservation Society have been doing for several years creating plenty of wetland habitat. When the warmer months come around, however, the newly-verdant woods are awash with the song of blackcaps, chiffchaffs and cetti’s warblers, with the occasional cheeky cackle of green woodpeckers for good measure. The long grass is also ideal for mice and voles- and kestrels. On a good day volunteering, I’ve seen three kestrels in an afternoon.
I’ve mentioned the reptiles that inhabit Buxton Heath, but the same sunny and exposed conditions that make it such a good habitat for them also benefit a wide variety of invertebrates. The paths that have been cut through the heather have created exposed soil, creating an ideal habitat for minotaur beetles, and as such, the paths are littered with their burrows. Scan the heather, and you have a good chance of finding mining bees and sand wasps.
However, where the reserve really stands out is fungi. An eager mushroom enthusiast might find turkey tail, shaggy parasol, fly agaric to name a few. But a true speciality is the presence of the nail fungus Poronia punctata, a species was only discovered in Norfolk in 2012, and is found on only a handful of sites across the UK.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the herd of Dartmoor ponies that graze on the heath. If you do ever go down there, I would suggest that you seek out these ponies-they’re very friendly and their presence has brightened up plenty of wet days for me.
Norfolk boasts an A-List of nature reserves: Strumpshaw Fen, Titchwell, Holkham, Cley Marshes, to name a few. Buxton is far, far removed from these distinguished names; Nonetheless, it has a real charm to it, and enough wildlife to make it well worth a visit.