Rap­ture for rap­tors

With a breed­ing pair of hob­bies, a vis­it­ing os­prey and spar­rowhawks, kestrels, buz­zards and red kites, restora­tion work at Pan­shanger Park is draw­ing in stun­ning birds of prey

Hertfordshire Life - - CONTENTS - WORDS: En­rique Mo­ran Mon­tero, Tar­mac’s Pan­shanger Park restora­tion man­ager

Pan­shanger Park’s re­mark­able bird suc­cess story

The past 12 months have been out­stand­ing for birds of prey in Herts, as two rare species – hobby and os­prey – have been spot­ted at Pan­shanger Park on the western edge of Hert­ford. A pair of hob­bies suc­cess­fully bred on the 400-hectare his­toric site, rais­ing three chicks, and in Septem­ber an adult os­prey vis­ited the park for a pro­longed stay of two weeks.

Healthy pop­u­la­tions of preda­tors at the top of food webs have long been recog­nised as in­di­ca­tors of the well­be­ing of ecosys­tems. As well as demon­strat­ing the qual­ity of the restora­tion work in the park be­ing un­der­taken by build­ing ma­te­ri­als com­pany Tar­mac, these rap­tors show how rare species can co­ex­ist along­side care­fully-man­aged, sus­tain­able recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties.

Pan­shanger Park, owned by Tar­mac, was a sand and gravel quarry that is be­ing pro­gres­sively re­stored to a coun­try park and na­ture re­serve. The com­pany works in part­ner­ship with Herts and Mid­dle­sex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) to man­age the site for both wildlife and peo­ple to en­joy, meticulously plan­ning restora­tion work for na­ture con­ser­va­tion, agri­cul­ture and recre­ation.

In 2017, Tar­mac and the wildlife trust re­ceived top hon­ours at the Min­eral Prod­uct As­so­ci­a­tion’s Restora­tion and Bio­di­ver­sity Awards at the Royal So­ci­ety in Lon­don. The part­ner­ship re­ceived the pres­ti­gious Cooper-Hey­man Cup in recog­ni­tion of its work to sen­si­tively re­store and man­age Pan­shanger Park’s Grade II* listed land­scape.

HOBBY

The hobby is a mi­gra­tory fal­con that vis­its south­ern Bri­tain to breed be­fore re­turn­ing to sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa for the win­ter. They feed on drag­on­flies and dam­sel­flies, as well as smaller birds in­clud­ing martins and swal­lows, catch­ing their prey in mid-air and, with in­sect prey, feed­ing on the wing.

There are around 2,000 pairs of hob­bies in the UK and the health of the ex­pand­ing

pop­u­la­tion has been linked to the in­crease in their drag­on­fly prey around re­stored gravel pits like those be­ing cre­ated at Pan­shanger Park. Their pres­ence is a re­flec­tion of the high qual­ity habi­tats that have been cre­ated and al­lowed to es­tab­lish and flour­ish.

Fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tion with species pro­tec­tion ex­perts, a se­ries of ‘hobby watch’ events was hosted by Tar­mac and HMWT so the pub­lic could view the birds through tele­scopes and learn more about them and the pro­tec­tion they re­quire. More than 100 peo­ple at­tended these events and ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the youngest watch­ers, were able to see the birds.

‘They are a joy to watch – ca­pa­ble of rapid bursts of speed and breath­tak­ing turns as they hunt,’ said HMWT’s Mur­ray Brown, the park’s peo­ple and wildlife of­fi­cer. ‘We were thrilled to have a fam­ily of hob­bies at Pan­shanger.’

OS­PREY

Ospreys have been stop­ping off at Pan­shanger Park for sev­eral years as they fol­low their long mi­gra­tion routes be­tween north­ern Europe and trop­i­cal Africa. This year, an adult bird stayed for a fort­night af­ford­ing bird­watch­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers and vis­i­tors amaz­ing views of this re­mark­able bird of prey from the be­spoke view­ing plat­form.

‘The sight of a fish­ing os­prey plung­ing feet first into a lake to catch large fish in its spe­ciallyadapted talons, has to rank among the most awe-in­spir­ing of wildlife ex­pe­ri­ences in Bri­tain. We’re so pleased that this spec­ta­cle could be en­joyed by so many peo­ple,’ said Mur­ray.

The visit by the os­prey is just one ex­am­ple of how the quarry restora­tion work is cre­at­ing new habi­tat that, with care­ful man­age­ment, can work sideby-side with recre­ational use. Some of the lakes cre­ated at Pan­shanger Park through this restora­tion are stocked with brown and rain­bow trout by a fly fish­ing club. Be­fore min­eral ex­trac­tion, these ar­eas were grass­land. The an­glers ap­pre­ci­ate that their sport is en­riched by fish­ing along­side breed­ing birds, such as reed, sedge and Cetti’s war­blers and lit­tle and great crested grebes. King­fish­ers, grey wag­tails and lit­tle egrets are also fre­quently seen.

‘The sight of a fish­ing os­prey plung­ing feet first into a lake is one of the most awein­spir­ing’

Re­stored sand and gravel quar­ries are per­fect sanc­tu­ar­ies for a whole host of flora and fauna and there can be lit­tle doubt that the habi­tat cre­ation work of com­pa­nies like Tar­mac is greatly ben­e­fit­ting wildlife in the UK. Lakes and rivers in such ar­eas may be sur­rounded by land that is not ex­ten­sively used for com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture and so es­cape ex­ces­sive in­puts of ar­ti­fi­cial nu­tri­ents. At Pan­shanger Park, land­scape de­signer Humphry Rep­ton’s sin­u­ous Broad­wa­ter is com­ple­mented by other wa­ter bod­ies cre­ated af­ter gravel ex­trac­tion, pro­vid­ing ideal hunt­ing grounds for hob­bies and ospreys.

The sub­merged aquatic plants, mar­ginal species and reedbeds also pro­vide habi­tats for wa­ter voles, am­phib­ians and win­ter­ing wild­fowl and the as­so­ci­ated in­ver­te­brate life pro­vides feed­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for birds, bats and drag­on­flies. Pan­shanger Park is home to nearly half of the UK’s species of drag­on­flies and dam­sel­flies and is the sec­ond rich­est site in Hert­ford­shire for these stun­ning in­sects.

Land­scapes like Pan­shanger Park pro­vide crit­i­cal havens for wildlife and act as step­ping stones for species to move through a wider coun­try­side dom­i­nated by in­ten­sively-farmed or de­vel­oped ar­eas, thereby con­nect­ing them to other suit­able habi­tats.

While most of the park has open ac­cess and a se­ries of man­aged per­mis­sive rights of way cov­er­ing 15km, it’s vi­tal that some undis­turbed refuges are left pro­tected so that sen­si­tive wildlife can flour­ish, os­prey can rest and re­fuel on their mi­gra­tions, and the fan­tas­tic hobby can raise its young in safety.

Birds and other wildlife draw in more than 100,000 vis­i­tors a year to the park

One of the par­ent hobby at Pan­shanger – with a drag­on­fly in its talons. Hobby can eat on the wing

The hobby chicks, raised in a pro­tected area

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