The last one – December 2020

I have never seen as many local foxes before and never before so close up: an early morning visitor to St Andrew’s Road/Longford/Whytford Place, St Giles Cemetery, a large garden in Huntingdon Road and one fearless individual in the underpass of the roundabout at the junction of Newmarket Road and East Road one Saturday morning at 10:30am.

Song Thrushes have been singing but rarely seen and Mistle Thrushes have been defending a berry-laden clump of female Mistletoe in Chapel Street, Chesterton.

Song Thrush – Paradise

Despite the rise in the levels of the river Water Voles can be easy to see in Logan’s Meadow. Vince Lea (Lea, 2020) has written an excellent paper in the latest edition of British Wildlife magazine about the eradication of Mink to enable Water Voles to flourish again. It’s working, Bourne Free, the eradication of Mink in the Bourne Brook, a tributary of the Cam, has been a great success.

I have a soft spot for House Sparrows – the antithesis of twitching! They are locals and tell us about our relationships with birdlife in cities and the wider countryside. Sunny days in December are when colonies noisily congregate before disbursing to nearby nest sites from January/February onwards; Fen Road, Union Lane, Coldham’s Lane and a big assembly in Newmarket Road opposite Pizza Express have all attracted interest from passers-by.

There was a very interesting Wildlife Trust zoom talk on Turtle Doves by Guy Anderson of the RSPB. Turtle Doves have declined by 95% in the UK from a combination of reasons including lack of seed feed when they arrive and over-hunting on their migration routes. Political and conservation pressures in France have reduced the hunting bag of Turtle Doves from 92,000 in 2013 to 7,000 in 2020 and the Spanish hunting season has been reduced by 85% to relieve pressure on Turtle Dove populations. There is hope for this emotive species that is now confined to breeding in the UK only in the south-east of England.

In most winters there is an influx of an uncommon species – Waxwings, Hawfinches, Parrot or Two-barred Crossbills; this year it is grey geese with White-fronted Geese turning up in numbers with single or small groups of Bean Geese. Flyovers have been heard over our project area but it’s worth looking on any yet-to-be-harvested sugar beet fields or even large sports fields.

A pair of Stonechats seem to be staying over winter on the NIAB’s Trials Ground on the edge of our area. I have seen them there as passage singles before, but this year there is an exceptional area of crop trash and weedy stubbles that have been left which has attracted overwintering Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and offers the chats insect food.

Our NatHistCam project has now finished. What remains is perhaps the hardest part, editing the contributions which will document the diversity of wildlife in Cambridge and its immediate hinterland. Cambridge is undergoing exceptional growth from new housing and business developments. It is important we measure and catalogue what is here so that we can monitor future changes. Since the 1950’s and in every decade since, the north and north east of the City have experience major new building developments from Arbury to Eddington, The Meadows and Orchard Park to Cambridge North Station, new business parks and soon new housing on the site of the former sewage works and the old Sewage Farm.

Visit Milton Country Park (MCP) during the school holidays and you will find it full of families and dog-walkers. It illustrates the need for open space and countryside, for a bit of the wild-side! It cannot take much more. Relying on MCP to provide recreational space for a nearby development of 8,000 homes and 20,000 people will destroy MCP. More open space is needed. In my view every new development should include a biodiversity action plan – a commitment to include wildlife in all new developments and improve the biodiversity of the site. The Sewage Works development is an opportunity to recreate Chesterton meadows and perhaps return breeding Snipe, Redshanks and Lapwings to riverside pastures that have been drained and over-grazed as well as build new homes.

The Covid crisis has shown that we need open space and wildlife. Riverside, and Paradise/Coe Fen are full of families, couples and dog walkers on any day (when it’s not raining!) enjoying a brief experience in or near wild-space. Contact local politicians about biodiversity and contentious building developments and the result is – silence. I know I have tried!

Over the last four years the blogs I have written and the piece I have prepared for our publication have given me much pleasure. Birdwatching is about the experience of birdlife and wildlife and wild-space, the analysis of data, historical comparisons to monitor and measure change and watching the emergence of new observations and ideas.

“Noc-mig” – the sound recording and identification of migrating birds at night – is revealing species we would never imagine passing over our urban gardens. I was always intrigued that even small areas of open water areas were quickly colonised by Little Grebes – how? – it’s obvious with “noc-mig” – they fly over at night, find them and colonise them. In a (near!) lifetime of birdwatching I’ve never seen a Little Grebe fly more than about 50feet and about 2feet above the water! “Vis-mig” – watching birds and identifying flyovers from a garden, or park or any open space in our NatHistCam area has revealed passage Cranes and Harriers and Crossbills, big movements of thrushes and corvids and gulls going to roost and Short-eared Owls and a Bee-eater. “Vis-mig” can be done by us all.

Our book about the Natural History of Cambridge is in preparation. Most contributions are complete and await editing. The energy and drive of Mark Hill is gathering together a comprehensive inventory of the wildlife of Cambridge in all its diversity in a single publication. It has generated interest from local radio stations, the local and regional press to Chris Packham and the crew of Spring Watch.

That’s it for now!

Best wishes

Bob Jarman

Lea, V. (2020) Is Mink control for ever? Prospects for eradication in East Anglia. British Wildlife 32,3.