Country & Coast: Summerwatch down on the Leeds reserve

An open day is being held at Rodley Nature Reserve this weekend.
An open day is being held at Rodley Nature Reserve this weekend.
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ANYONE SUFFERING withdrawal symptoms after three weeks of peering under stones and into reed beds with Springwatch should spend a few hours at the wonderful Rodley Nature Reserve, a couple of miles from the centre of Leeds.

If its urban location sounds less than appealing and unlikely to match those treats provided by the BBC’s visit to RSPB Minsmere then prepare to be surprised.

Rodley is run by volunteers, and in the 15 years since taking over a decommissioned sewage works on the banks of the River Aire they have created a beautifully designed series of wetland habitats, meadows and woods that now host an impressive array of wildlife.

A mud-fringed lagoon currently has nesting common terns as well as breeding Cetti’s warblers, great-crested grebe and water rail. Otters come off the riverbank to be captured by infra-red camera. Roe deer feed on the woodland fringes. At the visitor centre you can see close at hand several breeding harvest mice being prepared for release on the reserve.

All of which just scrapes the surface of what Rodley has to offer, and to prove it there is an open day this weekend offering activities like moth trapping, a survey of shrews and voles and other small mammals, a bug hunt for some of the fascinating insects attracted to wetland, pond dipping sessions and - best of all I think - a series of dragonfly walks.

Dragonflies and damselflies have been a speciality of the reserve ever since a network of special ponds was developed with the advice of Dr. Peter Mill, a retired Leeds academic and past president of the British Dragonfly Society. Around 20 different species have been recorded, some of them in large numbers, and on a hot June day I saw too many damselflies to count as they sunned themselves on water lily leaves.

Azure damselflies seemed to be everywhere, their turquoise bodies lit up like neon. There were also plenty of brown hawker dragonflies, which I also see in my garden from time to time, and what I believed to be an emperor dragonfly.

Nearby is a field growing a so-called “sacrificial crop” of plants that will provide seeds as bird food in winter. There’s also a large swampy area of willow trees and fine swathes of phragmites which provide nesting sites for another of the reserve’s specialities, reed warblers.

The harvest mouse introduction project began three years ago, and last year some 496 mice were released onto the reserve. Encouragingly, follow-up surveys revealed that the mice had build numerous nests. The large number of releases is necessary because the winter survival rate of this tiny species can be as low as five per cent.

It is high season for butterflies and there are small blues, orange tips, commas, small coppers and green-veined whites to be seen, and on my visit the spectacularly colourful daytime moth, the cinnabar, was everywhere. This is Yorkshire’s very own Summerwatch.

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