For October’s blog, and with autumn now with us, we hand over to NAT Volunteer Edward, who has been looking into our conservation efforts and successes at Middleton Mount near Kings Lynn.
“Lately, the weather had taken a bit of a downturn; yours truly began writing these words with the distinct impression that a waterfall had formed over the walls around them. But for the first fortnight in September, it really did feel like we were on course for an extended summer. At any rate, it was the ideal weather for conservation activity; and at one particular site, at the western edge of Norfolk, the workload is in full swing right now.
Nestled in between a block of houses and a golf course in the town of Middleton, is an unassuming field with a hill at the centre. In fact, this site is one of the most significant Medieval remains in East Anglia. Middleton is part of a string of fortresses constructed in the wake of the Norman Conquest. Norwich Castle is the most notable example, but while it was integral as an administrative centre, smaller castles such as the one at Middleton Mount played an important role in maintaining order. Their positioning along East Anglia allowed them to provide a deterrent to potential invasions from Continental Europe, as well as protecting the monarchy in the south from invasions from the north and west. Nowadays, Middleton Mount stands as an indispensable part of Norfolk’s history, and also as an important conservation site.
A stroll around the mount shows that autumn is very much upon us. Yellow leaves are beginning to appear on the limes, there are galls all over the oaks and sycamores, and berries on the rowans and roses. Currently the woodpigeons are gorging themselves on these, and the Fieldfares and Redwings will likely take to them when they arrive in winter.
In September, Middleton Mount also throngs with insects. The sward is underscored by a din of grasshoppers, and pockmarked with the nests of Cornfield Ants. The upturned soil in turn attracts Ichneumon Wasps. Speckled Wood butterflies joust in the shade of the rowans, dragonflies clatter through the scrub, and hornets patrol the mount with an air of intent.
All of this shows that NAT’s conservation efforts have paid off, and for that we are overjoyed. But of course, this requires plenty of input. And at this time of year in particular, we are in the process of cutting back the scrub. The hedgerows that surround Middleton Mount consist of a variety of shrubs and low-flowering trees. These include the aforementioned dog roses, as well as hawthorns, elders, and brambles. These provide food, shelter, and nesting material for a variety of wildlife, so we time our hedge maintenance for when the birds have fledged.
This activity ensures that the sward habitat is not encroached by scrub. However, to ensure the widest variety of habitats possible, we are selective in the hedges we trim, allowing some to grow out. The branches we cut are put to a variety of uses: some are used for bonfires; some are turned into mulch; and some are made into a compost heap. This supports many more invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles, as well as helping return nutrients to the soil as it decays.
Equally important in managing Middleton Mount is the herd of sheep that are grazed on the site. These were taken off earlier this year, but are expected back on site soon for winter grazing. Come spring, the trimmed vegetation should allow new flowers to take root.
Our sites may be centuries old, yet they are also a constant work in progress; we are always carrying out work on them, altering them, improving them. With Middleton Mount, the Norfolk Archaeological Trust is not just looking to its past, but also at the present, and the future.”
We are currenty recruiting for volunteers at Middleton Mount, to help with our conservation efforts. To find out more please contact Jules Armour, Volunteer Co-ordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org