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Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust: Nature’s super highway right on our doorstep

When one lives alongside something it can be all too easy to overlook it or take it for granted and I feel that one of our county’s most significant features, the River Trent, has long been undervalued, says Erin McDaid of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

While the Trent, and the canals that connect to it, is at the heart of the inland waterways system and enjoys great popularity with pleasure boaters, our county’s river is often dismissed as being inconsequential and ordinary by others.

It may only be the UK’s third longest river and its tidal bore, the Aegir, might not match up to that of the River Severn, but the Trent’s importance for birdlife cannot be questioned.

Osprey. Photo Stefan Johansson (42559027)
Osprey. Photo Stefan Johansson (42559027)

The pattern of human settlement in our county would suggest the Trent was a main route in for settlers from Northern Europe, but it is likely the river was used as a natural route by wildlife long before it was used as a navigation by man.

It is a key navigational feature used by birds moving north from as far south as Africa and birds from Northern Europe travelling southwards.

The name of the river is believed to derive from the Romano British Trisanto, meaning great thoroughfare, a rather fitting name for a river used by so many birds on vital journeys throughout the seasons.

Others believe that its name belies the river’s history for significant flooding, and it may be that the resultant floodplain habitats, as well as its generally north-south course, have added to its value to migratory species.

While there has undoubtedly been a decline in naturally-occurring habitats along its route, especially in terms of those such as reedbed and wet grassland, the flooded gravel lagoons have served to create valuable new habitat that has readily been adopted by birds looking to stop off briefly on their travels or to spend long periods for breeding or overwintering.

Osprey platform being installed (42559029)
Osprey platform being installed (42559029)

That many of these sites, like Attenborough and Besthorpe, have since been protected and managed specifically for wildlife has served only to increase the nature conservation value of the Trent and it would be nice to think that the Trent Valley can become as well known for its wetland wildlife as it once was for its concentration of coal-fired power stations.

Each spring the Trent is used by ospreys returning from overwintering areas in Africa to locate their UK breeding sites.

The birds are frequently seen flying high over Attenborough and, along with sister Trusts, including Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, we have constructed nesting platforms at both Besthorpe and Attenborough reserves in the hope of one day attracting birds hatched at Rutland Water to breed.

Shoveler group. Photo Mike Vickers (42559031)
Shoveler group. Photo Mike Vickers (42559031)

As winter approaches we can look forward to the prospect of the Trent Valley, and its many wetland nature reserves once again becoming home to large flocks of wildfowl, including wigeon, teal, pochard and shoveler.

We can also expect to see great crested grebe, goldeneye and tufted duck ­— with the hope that a more unusual visitor or two may turn up to provide additional interest.

Large flocks of lapwing is a spectacle to behold and can sometimes contain good numbers of golden plover.

Wigeon flock. Photo: Mike Vickers (42559033)
Wigeon flock. Photo: Mike Vickers (42559033)

At Attenborough, recent winters have also seen good numbers of bittern and we hope that the species will breed again at the reserve in the not too distant future as more reedbed becomes established.

Another attraction of recent winters have been the reliable and sizeable starling colonies, with their daily murmuration displays, as the birds descend en-masse to roost.

With such a well-worn migration highway on our doorstep it would seem churlish not to make more use of it for wildlife watching.

The beauty of this natural feature is that it brings such variation, meaning that a visit to even a regular haunt can deliver interest throughout the year, and in spring and autumn always offers a real chance of a surprise or two.

­— Erin McDaid

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

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