Monitoring nutrient levels in gravel pits

So here we are a showery weekend in July and we have a batch of water sampling kits to monitor nutrient levels in freshwater habitats locally. We started this project some time ago and this is our second batch of water sampling kits.

The technique is fairly simple, each tube is secured with a small green tab, this, when removed, leaves a hole. The air is squeezed out of the tube, which is then inserted in a sample of the water. Once the water has been sucked into the tube, the contents are shaken and the colour change develops over 3 minutes for nitrates and five minutes for phosphates. The colour produced corresponds to a range of nitrates or phosphates in the water. A GPS location for the water body and a photograph of each area sampled and the process is complete

We decided this weekend was time to sample the gravel pits at Attenborough Nature reserve so we set off to collect some samples and get some results.

First was the sailing pit away from the River Trant and deep we failed to see much algal growth and we were hopeful levels of nutrient would be low. However, nitrate levels were higher than we had expected at 2.5 ppm whilst phosphate levels were much lower at 0.02-0.05ppm ( parts per million).

SAILING PITIMG_5738We then headed towards the main centre and church pond. This pond is away from the river and therefore less likely to have nitrate runoff from farmland.  Indeed here the nitrate levels were less than 0.2ppm and the phosphate levels were less than 0.02ppm making this pond very beneficial to q=aquatic insects that fail to thrive in water bodies with higher nutrient levels. We then met some fellow scientists who informed us that this pond is groundwater fed and consequently does not receive water from sewage overflow or from the river.

CHURCH PONDIMG_5740Tween pond is opposite the church pond and we sampled that pond next. A young Canada goose with a broken wing and damaged foot was struggling in the shallows. We reported it rather than let it suffer. Nitrate levels were much higher here at 2.5ppm whereas phosphate levels were still low at less than 0.02ppm. We did notice some algae around the edges and a number of ducks and swans were on the water. We suspected that the algae had removed nitrates from the water in order to grow. However, Tween pond is nearer the River Trent and could be receiving excessive water from the Trent following heavy rain. We were disturbed with a Southern Hawker that came to investigate us.



At the corner, there is a smaller pond that leads to a ditch beside the path. This pond is next to the house called Ireton House. One of Oliver Cromwell’s generals was Ireton. Here there is a multitude of ducks, some wild and some definitely domesticated. We thought the nutrient levels would be high in this pond from all the duck faeces.We were wrong the nitrate levels were less than 0.2ppm whilst the phosphate levels were higher at 0.2-0.5ppm. Possible the algae we found could have taken up surplus nitrates from their growth. A common blue damselfly was perched up and further examination revealed a blue tailed damselfly nearby.




Main pond nitrates were the same as the sailing pit 2-5ppm and phosphate levels were also higher at 0.2-0.5ppm. Main pond is huge but it connects with the river through a sluice so excess river water can be channelled away to prevent flooding.


IMG_5742More common blue damselflies and blue tailed damselflies were perched up and several different bee species were busy.  These included Bombus pascorum the common carder, Bombus hypnorum the tree bumblebee and Apis mellifera the honey bee.

We headed down towards Clifton pit the pit with the two hides beside the banks. The nitrate level was less than 0.2ppm whilst the phosphate level was 0.05-1ppm. The lake is very deep and despite the number of birds who make their home on it, they are not significantly increasing the nitrate level in the water. We had been told that this lake was also ground water fed.


IMG_5743Finally, we drove to the railway crossing on Meadow Lane to take samples from Beeston pond We had been warned that the nutrient levels were likely to be very high here due to an overflow sewage outlet nearby. However, nitrate levels were less than 0.2 and phosphate levels were 0.05-0.1 so we were pleasantly surprised. We watched a warbler making its way through the reeds for a few minutes before returning home to input the data.




Here is the map of the site Map – Attenborough Nature Reserve (1)


Clean water for wildlife

I am a bit of a numpty and so I have agreed to undertake various “Challenges” this month. My first challenge was to sign up to walk 10,000 steps every day in June to raise money for cancer research. I then decided that I should do some more swimming and signed up to swim half a marathon in seven weeks. This was still not enough so I decide to do the challenge that I am really enjoying which is to do something wild every day during June.

During the winter we attended a meeting of the British Dragonfly Society and heard a talk by a representative of the group This organisation are undertaking a project to map the nitrate and phosphate levels on freshwater bodies across the UK. These freshwater habitats include streams, ponds, lakes, canals and rivers. So we have been around the area in which we live and testing the water for nitrates and phosphates. These are the primary nutrient chemicals within freshwater habitats.

Results 2017 fresh water testing

We visited ten sites and took photos of each site. Despite being there just for the testing we found four spotted chaser dragonflies, a black-tailed skimmer as well as both blue tailed damselfly, common blue damselfly as well as speckled wood butterfly, female orange tip and small tortoiseshell. So a little sunshine and lots of insects were out. At Attenborough, we were treated to whitethroat, blackcap and Cettis Warbler in addition to watching a reed warbler for several minutes.

This is Long Eaton gravel pit. It is no longer linked to the river and other ponds. This is reflected in the low nutrient levels found in the water.

The next site today was Forbes Hole Long Eaton an old borrow pit from the 1830s used to obtain gravel for the railway adjacent to the site. This is a more mature site and where the fantastic dragonflies were all out in the sunshine.

We then headed for Attenborough Nature Reserve and took samples from the River and Conneries Pond. The river had high nutrient levels of both Nitrates and Phosphates.

It was very windy and the water was choppy again algae were present of the surface of the water and the nitrate and phosphate levels were high.

The path at Attenborough was mush higher than the river, this presented problems in scrambling down the bank to obtain the water sample.

Yesterday we visited Wollaton lake, which was also high in phosphates but lower in nitrates than the algae on the surface of the lake would indicate.

Wollaton lake is fed by a culvert from Martin’s Pond a much smaller pond. Both nitrate and phosphate levels were high.



The river Erewash passes sewage treatment works and consequently, the levels of nutrients would be supposed to be high. Indeed these were the highest levels we recorded. The Erewash Canal was similarly high in nitrate levels, but not phosphate levels.

The small plastic tubes containing the reagents start colourless and change colour as the reaction develops after a few minutes the colour is used to determine the concentration of nitrates and phosphates. The levels of nitrates were generally higher than the levels of phosphates. So this is my Go Wild for this weekendIMG_5112

Lady Audley’s Secret


 The book is available for free at project Gutenberg,+M.+E.+(Mary+Elizabeth)


I used to love Victorian literature but I gradually began to find it tiresome. The descriptions were too lengthy, the characters stereotypical and the plots sentimental. They were like the forerunner of those American films where everything is so wholesome and things always turn out well in the end. Now don’t get me wrong I like a happy ending and I enjoy reading descriptive passages but the long-winded passages where the scenery prefigures a plot doesn’t do it for me.

However, despite skipping a few of the more long winded descriptions this was a good book. Not only did it keep my interest but it is very subversive. Basically, a woman gets married has a baby her husband loses/spends all his money they have a row he runs off to sea. After three years of no communication with his wife, he comes back having made lots of money to hear from his father-in-law that his wife has just died. He is not surprised about this, after all without his presence what would any woman do but pine and deteriorate. However, he meets up with his friend when he is the depths of despair, his friend takes him to his family home where his uncle lives with his latest wife. This latest wife is the same woman the man had married he isn’t too happy that she hasn’t waited for him pining in abject poverty but found herself a wealthy husband. They row and she pushes him down the well. She thinks she has killed him. His friend takes it upon himself to find out what has happened to his friend and the whole detective piecing together of clues is started as the story starts to unravel and she becomes more desperate.

Project Gutenberg link to the book

I liked the subversion of the domestic angel of the health and home transformed into a sexual woman and her independence and resourcefulness were quite refreshing. Of course, her conformity to the behaviour expected of her was rather annoying the simpering and being so nice to everyone. In Victorian terms, this niceness just made her crime all the heinous. There is a strong undercurrent of homosexuality between her first husband and his best ‘friend’ who disturbingly marries the husband’s sister at the end of the book. A sister who, rather significantly in my mind, closely resembles her brother.  There are some very telling misogynist passages against all women taking this one person as the archetype of half the population. All this from a man who has basically had every whim catered for and done very little with his life up to this point.

The husband turns up alive at the end of the book but the wife is packed off to a sanatorium in Belgium for the rest of her life, despite not actually killing her first husband as far as I could gather her crime was lying to her first husband about her death and marrying a second husband but since she married before she knew her first husband was still alive it seemed a bit of a harsh punishment.  She does manage to kill the man who is blackmailing her but I can’t feel much sympathy for him.

lady audleyjpg

Perhaps she was punished for being a gold digger, or, tellingly she may be punished for being attractive and deceiving them all or for her lack of sincerity.  I can’t help thinking that her punishment which is as much a being buried alive as any medieval horror was due to her unconformity and selfishness.  Any woman who does not conform to the patriarchal society must be evil. This is quite apparent in paternalistic societies today.

The book reminded me of Dracula or Frankenstein or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, gothic horror but with underlying layers of meaning. For instance, in a society where towns were growing into huge cities who could know where a strange woman had come from one might have had to take her word for it. Everyone it would appear had his or her place in this worldview God appointed and perhaps part of the blame is because this woman has dared to move up through society to a different stratum.

The only thing I found it hard to empathise with is the abandonment of her baby son to his alcoholic grandfather. Whether my scruples are due to my conventional upbringing or morality I can’t tell. However, I can’t see myself abandoning a baby or marrying someone for his money, although a number of women do that and in victorian days most women one would have thought married for security and a home. 

Written by a woman who lived with her partner who was married to someone else the someone else being in an asylum he had five children as well as the children they had together she hardly led a conventional victorian life and the book she wrote was intriguing.  In addition, it made her enough money to become financially secure.  The issues are also detailed in the case of Constance Kent the young girl who murdered her step brother and the basis of the film “The Suspicions of Mr Whitcher”.  Isn’t it amazing how things that appear disparate are so interconnected? 

Anyway that’s all for now 

Love your mother









Looking for migrants

Dear Lads,

It has been a glorious weekend here. Hot and sunny with just enough breeze to prevent to becoming too uncomfortable. So yesterday we decided to head to Attenborough and see what we could find. As you can imagine the car park was heaving and we spent quite a while trying to sort out a year’s car parking permit. This was compensated for by the sight of the returned sand martins. We watched them entering and leaving their burrows entranced for quite a while.

Here it has changed from early spring to late spring in a matter of a couple of days. Last time I drove to Derby the trees barely held any blossom now they are rapidly covered in leaves. It is as if Spring has become compressed.

Anyway back to my tale. The cettis warblers were singing from every part of the reserve. They were most obliging and came out to be viewed which was very satisfying. An avocet was on Clifton pit unusual but not beyond probability. We missed the little-ringed plover as it had flown off before we could see it and the redstart had likewise departed. However, we walked to LongEaton Meadows and back along the railway line. Butterflies had also decided that spring was now here and were out in force. In a matter of hours, we had seen Brimstone, Peacock, Orange-tip, small white, comma, Small tortoiseshell and speckled wood. They all looked in pristine condition so we assumed they had recently emerged.


Photographs are from butterfly conservation unless stated

We spent five hours wandering about looking for migrants and although we didn’t see any other migrants we head willow warblers and we had a lovely time. We returned home to discover another springtime tradition. Just as the bulbs bloom and the migrants return, the mad woman next door was cursing and swearing whilst she threw bottles and other objects down the garden.

The wonderfully named hairy footed flower bee Anthophora plumipes was out in force as were early bumblebees buff-tailed Bombus terrestris and common carder Bombus pascuorum. We saw several bee-flies  Bombylius major and a hoverfly with a batman marking on the thorax Myathropa florea.


Myathropa florea.

Photographs are from BWARS

This morning another glorious day started and since we were later getting up I went for a swim so after fifty minutes in the pool ( 40+ lengths) and having washed the costume I was just getting ready to go out when I noticed the live trap beside the shed had been triggered. As you know we use the live traps to catch any rats that come off the fields and think that our garden is a cushy place to set up home. I release them a mile of two away beside the river.  We had caught a hedgehog. We had suspected that there were hedgehogs in the garden for some time, now we have definite proof. We gave it some cooked chicken and water which it ignored and we let it go once we had photographed it.

We had caught a hedgehog. We had suspected that there were hedgehogs in the garden for some time, now we have definite proof. We gave it some cooked chicken and water which it ignored and we let it go once we had photographed it.

So being late we set out for Carsington water and made it in good time. If we thought Attenborough was crowded yesterday today Carsington was packed. We didn’t see the willow tit at the feeders but did see a couple of waders on the edge and a pair of linnets on the vegetation. Everywhere we went chiffchaffs were calling. We found reed bunting and tree sparrows on the feeders.


The lady in the hide told us about the peregrine on the mill at Belper so we drove that way to try to see it. Imagine how thrilled we were to have an osprey fly over the car as we drove along. Our delight increased when moments later a buzzard dive bombed the osprey and it literally flew towards us and just over the windscreen. It was truly magical

We parked in the riverside gardens at Belper just as the peregrine flew in and landed on the mill. it remained there for the whole time we visited. The usual suspects were on the mill pond and the river. We found a bench to have our picnic and were surprised to find a tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum on the berberis near our bench. So sated and with two new species for the year we headed home visiting Thrumpton on the way to see if the corn buntings were around. Whilst we didn’t see or hear any corn buntings the fields were alive with skylarks singing and we did pick up both a sparrowhawk displaying above us and a kestrel hunting along a ditch. I think five raptors is excellent for a day and we have both thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Is it alright if I call the hedgehog Bumble?

Lots of love




Hi Lads,

This weekend has been quite quiet with the rain on Saturday, not to mention being busy today and so as I have very little news for you I thought I would tell you a modern day morality tale.

I first saw Phil last winter. He appeared outside the door one morning and I could see immediately that he was hungry. It was bitterly cold and wet and he looked bedraggled.  I could see how dispirited he was from the way he way he walked and gazed about him in a desultory fashion. He had obviously been a handsome individual , but he looked rather as if  he had hit rock bottom.

As you both know I am a pushover and so I found some food. Of course, he didn’t thank me but he looked a bit happier.

Of course, being smart, he realised that if there was free food around he should try his luck again. He continued to appear at work, looking hungry and bedraggled and I continued to feed him. Despite holidays and weekends, from Monday to friday, he would hang around waiting for food. I never allowed him to come in but I was prepared to buy some food. I am such a sucker and he soon became bolder approaching the door and sitting just outside. Over the course of the last few months, he has definitely put on weight and is looking very attractive. Other people began to notice his presence and would comment on how he seemed to be hanging around the place all the time. Some people thought he was a distraction. When I came to work people would update me on Phil’s antics or on how noisy he had been. Some individuals seemed to particularly delight in telling me how long he had waited for his breakfast making me feel both guilty and rather embarrassed.

Anyway, as Phil became more used to us he approached us more closely. when I opened the door he didn’t look so terrified and instead of running away he just stayed out of reach.  People would come to the room just to see Phil sitting just outside the fire door. He started to alert me to his presence by occasionally tapping on the fire door so that I would know he was waiting. I still only fed him either early morning or late afternoon.

Now, however, he has come to believe that I am just present in order to supply his desire for constant food and I am sure he tells his friends that he has me tamed and ready to feed him on demand. He has taken to rapping on the glass at odd times during the day demanding food and looks very put out if his demands are not met immediately.  He will condescend to take the food out of my hand now rather than insisting that I put the food down and walk away. He is still a bit aggressive as he snatches the food but I expect he cannot help that.

 He is certainly looking far better much brighter and confident. Last week he brought his girlfriend Penelope to visit.  He is about twice the size of Penelope so I think I have been definitely been overfeeding him. She is still rather shy and diffident and is much harder to observe. It can only be a matter of time before lots of little Phils and Penelopes arrive and I will have a whole flock of pheasants. I wonder whether Phil and Penelope will bring them to visit me.


 With love  from your rather gullible mother



Here is the account of our adventures in Wales this weekend.

As you know last Sunday was Mothering Sunday. This is made a big event in the UK. Every year my boys don’t phone me or send a card and every year I end up crying and feeling very sorry for myself. So this year I decided to short circuit the whole process.

Accordingly, I booked a bed and breakfast stay in Anglesey for Saturday night and in the lovely spring sunshine, we drove down to North wales Saturday morning. Our aim was to head to South Stacks and try to find Chough as they are so local it was either Wales or Cornwall and Wales is closer.


Sharing a car with a birdwatcher can be a hazardous Occupation. Every so often the car swerves slightly as another bird is spotted. A form of Tourette’s accompanies these manoeuvres as my companion shouts out random bird names such as Buzzard or Kestrel.

If desperate even common names, such as Magpie or Crow, are shouted. This reminds us that it is an English custom to always greet the first Magpie of the day with the phrase;

Good Morning Mr Magpie

As a child, we never considered this and would have thought it highly silly. However, we had a very good friend Tim Beynon who was a great naturalist and raconteur. He always greeted the first magpie of the day. Now we do it and every time we remember him and all that he taught us and shared with us.


We found ravens wheeling in the sky over North Wales and arrived at South Stacks about 11 am just in time for a tea break. Another family tradition is that all outings must be accompanied by tea breaks. Ideally, these breaks should be taken in tea shops, cafes or garden centres where tea is served in a teapot with a cup and saucer and a jug of milk but this time our individual flasks had to make do. We found a pair of Chough who kept flying back to the same cleft in the rocks so we assumed that they were nesting there.


On the sea by the lighthouse were razorbills and guillemots. Herring gulls were lurking looking for any opportunity to steal some easy food. Kittiwakes were also bouncing about on the waves as the sun glinted off the sea.

The sea was a beautiful deep blue colour but where the cliffs were submerged the colour changed to a deep green. It was so clear that even from the top of the cliffs you could see through the water. Butterflies were out and we saw small tortoiseshell, peacock and Red admirals as we sat in the sunshine.

We heard that puffins had been seen and full of enthusiasm we climbed down the hundreds of steps leading to the lighthouse. Despite being completely exhausted we didn’t see a single puffin. We treated ourselves to a light lunch at the café and headed out to an RSPB reserve nearby called The Range. There had been rumours of a hooded crow but we didn’t see it. Skylarks were everywhere as were meadow pipits and we did see a pair of stonechats perched above the heather. As we approached the cliff edge two choughs came over the cliff and flew just above our heads which were amazing. We could appreciate the bright red of their bills and legs.


A pair of swallows flew in off the sea. Now as the proverb says one swallow does not make a summer but it doesn’t mention the critical number of swallows needed to initiate summer. However, I think that two are not necessarily sufficient to guarantee good weather. I suppose it is even more naive to associate summer and good weather in this climate.

As early evening approached we drove to Holyhead fish quay where we found two black guillemots and strangely a great crested grebe.

black guillemot

Across the harbour curlews, redshanks and oystercatchers were turning over the seaweed searching for food.

We arrived at the bed and breakfast as the sun set and after a cup of tea, we meandered to the local pub, accompanied by the song thrush in the field. At the pub, we had a lovely home cooked meal. Walking back in the dark we realised how much light pollution there is in the city as the sky was full of stars and despite the fall in temperature we spent a while finding familiar constellations.



As we prepared for bed we were visited by a tabby cat who took up residence outside our room. If anything could have made the day more perfect it would have been a cat.

Norfolk in February

Having both had the food poisoning a week ago, it took us all week to recover. However, I had booked a weekend in North Norfolk staying in Hunstanton. Again we didn’t set off until after half past seven. We miss you nagging us to get up early and get going.  We had an excellent drive to Norfolk and found ourselves at Titchwell RSPB just after 10 am.


We had a wonderful walk down to the beach picking up waders right and left.


Marsh harriers were new to us and most of the common waders. On the sea, we found great northern diver, red-breasted mergansers and both velvet and common scoters. There were hundreds of common scoter and about 70 velvet scoters.


Sanderlings, oystercatchers, curlews, and bar-tailed tailed godwits patrolled the edge of the beach. Linnets and other mixed finches flew about the salt marsh. It was a cold day with a stiff breeze but we were well wrapped up and in high spirits. We went to Choseley barns to look for yellowhammers and corn buntings. We found both grey and red-legged partridge and loads of hares dashing around the fields.

We headed to the digs had an early night and woke up refreshed. We had to wait until after 9am for breakfast so we were late to set off.


We went to Holkham where we found spoonbills, over 200 white-fronted geese, Brent geese and Egyptian geese, great white egret. We found over 20 shore larks on the beach.




We walked back to the car with five minutes to spare on the parking and drove to the watch point at the end of Holkham pines where we found a huge flock of pink-footed geese so having seen all the common geese, we headed back to Choseley barns. We were rewarded with a view of a male yellowhammer. So we had a lovely weekend with over 30 new species for the year, some lovely walks and good food and a lovely place to stay. We have found that these short breaks are as good as a small holiday.


At Titchwell we found some snowdrops and two different species of fungi candle snuff and orange peel fungus.