Bittern caught on video at Doffcocker Lodge

Paul Thompson

A bittern has been spotted climbing about in the reedbed at Doffcocker Lodge, and a lucky volunteer caught its antics on film.

One of the best parts of our job is seeing our hard conservation work pay off, especially when that pay-off comes in the form of a rare bird enjoying the fruits of our labour.

Paul Thompson, one of our fantastic volunteers, saw the bittern blending into the reeds at Doffcocker Lodge in Bolton. Though the site itself belongs to Bolton Council, we have been managing the reedbed on their behalf since 2008 with the help of a passionate group of volunteers.

Video by Paul Thompson

Paul said of his exciting sighting:

“I've been monitoring this site for about 13 years. I was delighted to see the bittern and get the video clips on 14 February 2019 and it's great to know the conservation work done by Lancashire Wildlife Trust and other local groups is paying off. I also observed the bittern on the following day. Keep up the good work LWT and who knows what I might see next, perhaps a Cetti's warbler or bearded tits?”

Water rail and snipe have also moved into the reeds at Doffcocker, which indicates there is something here the birds like and is a great indication that we are doing something right!

A volunteer cutting back reeds at Doffcocker Lodge in Bolton

The process of establishing this reedbeed has not been easy. Over the last 11 years we have trialled various methods: growing common reed from rhizomes and transplanting them, growing them from seed in a greenhouse and transplanting them, taking cuttings and transplanting them! The biggest issue has been stopping the wildlife from eating the tasty new shoots. We now protect the new reeds with cages and remove them when the plants have properly established.

But the work doesn’t stop there. Common reed shoots die back and fall to the ground at the end of summer, building up leaf litter and soil as the years pass by. This build-up risks birch and willow springing up and drying out the reedbed, so in 2009 we divided the older reeds into 14 compartments. Each year our dedicated volunteers cut two new compartments in September and clear out the leaf litter. We then trample the whole area as much as possible to leave a muddy mess that is perfect for wintering wading birds. Conga line, a messy race: the more fun the trampling technique, the better!

As for the waste material we remove? It is piled up at the back of the reedbed where it warms up in the sunshine, is worked on by bacteria and ultimately gets a new lease of life as a habitat for invertebrates and insects who take up residence over winter. It would also be the perfect place for grass snakes to hibernate if we had them in the area. We live in hope!

This whole process goes on for a seven-year period and then we go back to the first two compartments and repeat the whole thing. It’s hard work, but we absolutely love it.

We can’t wait to see how Doffcocker Lodge continues to develop, especially with the addition of common tern rafts managed by Bolton Conservation Volunteers. The site is a real hidden gem and only looks set to get better for both wildlife and visitors.