Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Rarities at Lackford

With a site so diverse and as large as Lackford Lakes, there is always something new to find, we just have to look for it. This is especially true when it comes to the small stuff such as insects, spiders and other bugs. All to often we are taken with the beauty of a Red Admiral as it basks on a leaf, or a big fluffy bumblebee as it bounces from flower to flower. We look on in awe as large dragonflies patrol the pathways grabbing flies in mid-air and consuming them without stopping. However, occasionally something else pops up as an oddball. Something that has caught the eye of a visitor, something they haven't seen before, a fly, a bee, a cricket or a spider. Often they return to the visitor centre to ask staff to help with the ID of their new discovery. Sometimes what they have seen is actually quite a common species, but every now and then something special turns up.

This is just what happened to regular visitor and keen photographer Sarah West who saw what she thought was a wasp sitting on a leaf.

An unusual wasp, or is it? © Sarah West
On showing it to me, I spotted straight away it wasn't a wasp, but a fly, a Conops. It turned out to be a the rarest of Conops flies called Conops vesicularis (unfortunately no common name) and was only the 3rd time it had ever been recorded in Suffolk! This fly parasitises hornets and some bees hence its very fooling mimicry which allows it to get close to its victims.

Early last year I asked local spider expert Alan Thornhill if he would be interested in surveying Lackford Lakes for spiders. He said he was very interested and got to work straight away setting up pitfall traps in various locations around the reserve and it was so successful, he carried on surveying right through till autumn 2017. Along the way he found some interesting spiders with varying degrees of rarity and then he found something rather special. It was special because it had never been found in Suffolk before AND it is in serious decline through loss of habitat. The spider has the name of Haplodrassus silvestris and again has no common name. It has probably been living at Lackford since it became a reserve and it's a credit to the hard work of the Trust and its volunteers that create the habitat that it still exists at Lackford today.

I myself am often seen out on the reserve when I get the chance, looking for my specialty, bees and wasps. Over the last few years, I too have made some discoveries at Lackford including another first for Suffolk this year in the shape of the Early Mining Bee, a species usually found in sand dunes in the west and north west of the country, and here it is for the first time in Suffolk and again listed as rare. When I first started working here at Lackford 3 years ago, I found around 6 Large-headed Resin Bees nesting in a piece of old timber outside the centre. This was a rare bee and this was only the 7th record for Suffolk at the time.

Large-headed resin bee capping her nest outside the visitor centre.

I installed a solitary bee hotel and this year the bee is doing very well and can be found nesting in a variety of places around the reserve. This expansion in species in turn brought another rarity to the reserve in the form of a jewel wasp known as Chrysis gracillima, only recorded in Suffolk twice before.

Volunteer James Robinson managed to photograph this Silver-washed Fritillary whilst doing a dragonfly survey.

Silver-washed Fritillary © James Robinson
Now these butterflies are not particularly rare, more of a localised species. However, until James got this photo, this butterfly had never been recorded at Lackford ever before, so it's quite rare for here.

Now we have the opportunity to extend the nature reserve by another 77 acres of prime Breckland grassland habitat. This will not only provide nesting sites for birds such as Stone Curlew, but will also be home to a whole host of insects too. Who knows how many rarities may be living there?

Without doubt, it would seem that all around us there are things waiting to be discovered, we just need to take the time to look at the little things too.

By Hawk Honey - Visitor Officer

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Children discover wildlife at Lackford this summer

Children and Summer go as well together as fish and chips. Where there is sunshine and open spaces you can be assured the children will follow and even when there isn’t sunshine you needn’t worry for the joy of jumping in puddles is more exciting than a classroom any day!

This Summer has been no different and the reserve has been a hive of activity with throngs of people calling in daily. For the first summer ever we have been offering families the chance to do self-led pond dipping! Watching the excitement on their faces as they toddle off with nets clutched in their hands and curiosity on their faces couldn’t be better.

Summer is a time for children to step away from technology and really connect with the outside world. Here at Lackford we have had more family events and activity days than you could imagine and each one has brought a new flurry of excitement and joy!

At the start of the holidays we had our Family Wild play Wednesday! This morning was all about families coming together to play in our woods. We had a mud kitchen where children whipped up magic soups followed by courses of mud pies and cupcakes. Not quite full we also made wild art on the woodland floor and explored our senses on our blindfold trail. By the end of the morning mums, dads, grannies, and grandads were all happily playing with their young ones and trying to pull them away at the end was a challenge!

Come mid-summer we were going on Barefoot safaris where we squelched through mud, tip toed over pebbles and swished through long grass. We even had a chance to see what lived beneath our feet before making clay versions of these Minibeast!

Around this time our young wardens had their summer celebration and to top off a brilliant year we decided to have a Crayfish boil! The children loved learning how to catch the crayfish safely and legally and we tested out different bates (pedigree chum works best!). Once we had pulled them up we took them back to the workshop and boiled them up for lunch. The sweet taste of crayfish on a summers day washed down by lemonade can’t be beat!

We finished off our summer with our fun with science days where the children made solar smore ovens out of cake boxes and even though it was cloudy they were thrilled to find that at least the chocolate had melted slightly! During our science day, we also let off bottle rockets using bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar and watched them soar high into the sky and then in the afternoon we mixed up bouncy balls and made towers using marshmallows and spaghetti!

Overall it has been another amazing summer at Lackford Lakes and although summer may be over it won’t be long till we get some excited school children turning up on coaches’ eager to learn!

By Sophie Mayes – Wild learning officer

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A 30th birthday present for Lackford

We said back in January that 2017 is shaping up to be a special year for Lackford Lakes and we were right! Not only are we celebrating its 30th birthday, we now have a chance to extend the reserve by 77 acres.

Thirty years ago, Bernard Tickner bought the part of the reserve known as The Slough and gifted it to Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Thanks to his commitment and vision, the reserve has been transformed from a series of gravel pits …

… to a spectacular and diverse nature reserve, teeming with wildlife.

We now have an amazing opportunity to add something a little bit different – big skies and wide open landscape.

The land we now have the chance to buy is adjacent to Lackford village and adjoins similar fields that the Trust purchased back in 2005:

It is a wide, open space which has not been cultivated for over 20 years and is gradually reverting back to grass heath, typical of the Brecks. The grass has been kept short by the constant nibbling of rabbits, exposing the dry, flinty soil and this helps create the perfect conditions for a whole host of specialist plants and animals.
View across the new land

Linking the new and existing land together will create a much larger area for Breckland species like the enigmatic Stone Curlew which has been recorded as nesting on the new land in recent years.

A rare habitat

Breck grass heath has been hugely impacted by competing land uses during the last century. Modern farming techniques, house building and large-scale forestry has reduced it by 85% in just 50 years. We now have a rare to chance to protect a slice of this unique land.

We have just launched a fundraising appeal to raise £200,000 towards the land purchase. The response has been amazing and we've already received nearly £20,000 of donations. To donate, you can visit our Just Giving site or call us direct on 01473 890089.

30th Birthday celebrations

To mark the reserve's 30th birthday, we have a weekend of activities, including bug hunts, moth traps, pond dipping, trails & crafts, taking place on Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th September from 11am. We look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Plants of Lackford

An array of interesting plants are on display at Lackford at the moment- some huge and statuesque; others which can be admired only by getting down on your hands and knees!

By far the tallest plant in flower are the very woolly great mulleins, which grace the perimeter of the car park and the edges of the breckland field to the east of the Centre. In ideal conditions these can reach an impressive seven feet tall, but the poor sandy soil of Lackford and the occasional nibble from the rabbits keeps them a little shorter- perhaps five feet at most. These have a long spire of yellow flowers, a few of which open at a time and the leaves are the foodplant of mullein moth- their white caterpillars with rows of black and yellow spots often adorn the leaves in late summer on the reserve and are an impressive sight.

great mullein
Another, rarer relative, the dark mullein, has a habit of growing singly or in very small groups close to the Viewing Platform. Its a smaller plant, but with brighter yellow flowers with conspicuous furry purple stamens- very beautiful close up.

dark mullein spire
dark mullein (flower detail)

The royal-blue flowers of viper's bugloss are still visible all around the edges of the Kingfisher Trail, and these are a favourite with bumblebees (especially common carder), butterflies and the odd hummingbird hawkmoth (who visit usually on hotter days).

viper's bugloss
Mingled in with the viper's bugloss, and approximately the same height, are the creamy white spires of wild mignonette. This is one of a wide range of plants that grow at Lackford because they like the light, sandy soil typical of the Brecks. It's often a little more windy than elsewhere here, and these winds frequently disturb the light, loose soil which the Breckland plants actively benefit from- it provides them with bare, open patches for their seeds to germinate without the competition from vigorous grasses which prefer a more stable soil. Breckland plants often grow slowly and many are very small; this lack of competition from grasses means they can thrive at Lackford. The foliage of wild mignonette provides food for the caterpillars of the large white, small white and orange tip butterflies, and the flowers are very popular with bees and hoverflies.

wild mignonette

Church Walk is currently dotted with the yellow star-like flowers of cat's-ear, a member of the dandelion family but much shorter and more delicate-looking. If you look over the fence that borders the path here you'll also the tawny brown flowerheads of carline thistles, another breckland speciality, sitting ten to fifteen inches above the ground. Carline thistles are usually found growing in coastal sand dunes, but the sandy inland conditions at Lackford prove just as suitable! Three other thistles can be readily seen on the reserve at the moment- the very small but numerous lilac flowers of creeping thistle, the larger violet blooms of spear thistle, and the nodding purple heads of musk thistle which grow in clumps in the fields either side of Church Walk.

Musk thistle

Carline thistle

The diversity of habitats at Lackford mean the reserve also has its fair share of plants which prefer things damp and shady too- at the moment there are lots of harebell in flower on the path between the Viewing Platform and Double Decker hide and the orchid-like spikes of purple horehound are mingled in amongst the nettles on summer trail. Out this evening, I noticed that the damp scrapes on the Slough have turned into a blaze of colour with the flowers of purple loosestrife, lilac water-mint and yellow common fleabane- a favourite nectar source for the common blue butterfly.


The Slough in full summer colour!

Of course the biggest plants of all on the reserve are the trees, and as summer progresses you can clearly see a change in them. The berries of the guelder rose have been like hard green peas up until now, but the clusters are slowly turning red and by autumn will be a vivid, glossy crimson as will the foliage before it falls. alder trees are also ripening their cones- in fact they are the only deciduous tree to produce cones rather than flowers in order to reproduce- and when these are ripe they will be a magnet for visiting flocks of siskins and redpolls come the winter. A lot of the taller trees are clad in thick layers of ivy, especially the oaks, and as ivy is very late flowering it will be an invaluable nectar source for late bees and butterflies- currently the buds are still small but in a month or so they'll begin to open when most other plants' flowering season is over.

These are just a few of the many beautiful plants which are on show at Lackford at the moment- so do keep an eye open for them next time you visit. Some of those mentioned here feature on markers dotted along the kingfisher trail, between the viewing platform and the Centre, and over time we'll change these so that different plants are highlighted when they are each looking their best. A pair of binoculars are helpful for identifying more distant specimens, especially in the breckland field which lies to the east of the Centre. Here we have marked a spot on the kingfisher trail which gives a good view of this field and its plants.

by Heidi Jones (volunteer at Lackford Lakes)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Summer of Butterflies

At Lackford we have recorded 24 different species of butterfly on the reserve this year, and up to 16 of these can be seen by visitors on a good day- the best weather been warm, still and sunny! Among the highlights have been silver-washed fritillary, white admiral, purple hairstreak, painted lady and brown argus but the full list can be found at the bottom of this blog. We've also included the dates they were first spotted here this year- interestingly, the earliest was a peacock on February 24th and the most recent a white admiral on July 28th!

Last year we recorded the first silver-washed fritillary at Lackford and this year we have had at least a couple of individuals on site- we figured this must be the case when two of our volunteers spotted them almost simultaneously- with one specimen looking very tired and ragged while the other much brighter and pretty freshly emerged! They have a particular fondness for bramble and thistle flowers, especially when growing in a wooded setting- sunny clearings in the path next to the Sailing Lake and through Ash Carr might offer the best hope of seeing one. The males of this species roam very widely and can move some distance from where they hatched- ours may have come from as far as Bradfield Woods where there is a burgeoning population of them, whereas the females tend to stay closer to home, feeding and searching for the foliage of common dog violet which they lay their eggs upon.

silver-washed fritillary
Purple hairstreaks probably occupy the highest elevations of any butterfly at Lackford, and can therefore be tricky to see- they spend their days flitting about amongst oak leaves close to the very tops of the trees. They can be very hard to spot in between these short flights but look for a lilac-brown underside, about the size of that of a common blue, resting on a horizontal leaf. When basking with their wings held flat they are much harder to see because of how high up they are! 2017 is the first time they have been seen at Lackford but because they live a discreet life high in the treetops, they may have been here for many years.

purple hairstreak
Another species at its peak on the reserve at the moment is brown argus. It has two broods a year and Church Walk on a sunny day is currently full of individuals from the second brood, which have originated as eggs laid by the first brood in late may and early june. The usual foodplant is common rock rose, but I had never noticed this growing in any quantity at Lackford and wondered what they might be using instead- it turns out the foliage of dove's-foot cranesbill seems to be an adequate substitute after I saw a female egg-laying on some last week! Females lay eggs singly on the underside of suitable leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch they feed only on the underside of the leaf- leaving the top layer of the leaves' cells untouched, creating conspicuous transparent 'windows' on the surface of the leaf which are a tell-tale sign the plant has had brown argus caterpillars munching through it!

brown argus
Another special butterfly- the painted lady- arrived first with us this year on May 31st. We get these butterflies in variable numbers each year, depending on, believe it or not, the abundance of thistles all the way over in the Middle East! Thistles are a painted ladies' favourite foodplant, and where the butterflies reside year round in the Middle East, north Africa and southern Europe, sometimes the population builds to a point where there is a thistle shortage, and something has to give. Mass migrations are triggered, where hordes of butterflies fly north until they find more thistle-filled habitat, and they may travel as far north as Scandinavia in their search. A certain number this spring set up home at Lackford and we are now seeing some lovely fresh individuals on site, who have hatched locally, and whose parents undertook their mammoth journey earlier in the year.

painted lady
Red admirals undertake a similar journey, and both species are very closely related. They are both strong fliers and any adults left at the end of summer undertake a partial migration back to Europe, in search of warmer climes for whatever remains of their lives. In contrast, the brown argus mentioned earlier rarely move more than a few hundred metres from where they emerged- quite a difference! Recent observations suggest that although traditionally red admirals find our climate too cold and damp to survive a winter as a hibernating adult, a warmer climate in recent years may be making it possible for a few individuals to hibernate successfully on the mild south coast of England. Suspicion arose when some very fresh red admirals were emerging on warm spring days, without enough time for them to have travelled up from continental Europe.

red admiral
Now is an excellent time to head down to Lackford to look for butterflies as it's currently peak season. It's a good idea to have a pair of binoculars handy to observe them when they're a little further away. Binoculars are also great for looking at the finer details of individuals closer to you.

By Heidi Jones (volunteer at Lackford Lakes)

Monday, 9 January 2017

What will 2017 hold???

So before you know it, it's 2017. It felt like just last week we were getting ready for Spring so quick did 2016 go. But it was a good year with 138 species of bird being recorded at the site. Some of these hadn’t been seen at the reserve before or had been seen, but not for a long while, such as the bearded tits, which according to Paul Holness was last seen around 8 years ago. We had a good year when it came to osprey sightings with several views of them flying over during the August period as the birds begin their journey south.

We had great success with our kingfishers too with at least four broods being raised at Lackford. One brood in particular were very special as they nested in the bank outside the visitor centre, something that has never happened before.

One of our volunteers spotted a great white egret, another first for the reserve even though it didn't stop long. Well done to Joe Myers for spotting that. Also, wheatear and avocet were seen on the reserve again last year among many others. We would like to thank all our eagle eyed visitors for reporting their sightings back to the staff at the centre. Please keep it up as you are our eyes and ears out there.

So, what to look out for this year? Well as always, anything is possible and a rarity can drop in at anytime, but unless people are out looking, we will never know. Last year saw an increase of marsh harrier sightings at Lackford compared to other years and one rarity that we did get other than the long-tailed duck was the great northern diver, which only stopped on the sailing lake for 90 mins, but still it was enough.

A special year

Yes, 2017 is looking to be a special year because it's our 30th birthday! Lackford Lakes officially became a reserve back in 1987 when Bernard Tickner bought a part of the area that had been excavated by RMC (now known as Cemex). This part is now known as The Slough and sees many waders there through the seasons. Eventually, RMC stopped excavating in 2000 and gave the rest of the pits to the Trust. Since then Lackford has gone from strength to strength obtaining not one, but two SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) designations for its overwintering wildfowl and the other for its 21 species of dragonflies and damselflies that can be found here during the warmer months.
A Google Earth image of Lackford Lakes (no lakes present then) in 1945.
And how it is today, a haven for wildlife.

Regular surveys on the site are uncovering new things all the time and it is thanks to the diligence and hard work of our volunteers and staff that make Lackford what it is today, a prime nature reserve. 


As some of you may or may not know, we have been doing otter surveys at Lackford over the past year and we thought we would like to share with some trail cam footage taken of two otters found using the site.

As you can see from the first clip, the camera was the focus of their investigations. Check out the second clip to see if they were successful in pulling the camera down.


As usual, Paul’s New Years Day bird walk was well attended despite the poor weather and 56 species of birds were spotted. Since then, in one week, that number has risen to 73 species. This is down to visitors reporting their sightings back at the visitor centre. By reporting your sightings, no matter how common you think they are, you help many other visitors to the reserve. So keep those reports coming in.

Male goldeneye at Winter hide © Ian Goodall

This past week the kingfisher has been very obliging at the visitor centre pool, the Doubke-decker and Paul’s hide. Goldeneye have been seen regularly at the Winter hide, Hawkers pool and Bess’ hide. Teal and wigeon have been reported in large numbers of over 400 each on the Slough and Long Reach. Plenty reports of goldcrest, treecreeper, nuthatch, marsh tit, coal tit and other small birds from Ash Carr. 

Male pochard © Ian Goodall
Shelduck, little egret, shoveler, gadwall, tufted duck and pochard are all being seen on the Slough and there’s the odd sighting of snipe doing in from Steggall’s hide too. Out on the field feeders on Church walk, brambling have been spotted as well as bullfinch and reed bunting. This is also a likely place to spot tree sparrows, so keep your eyes peeled.

Snipe seen at Steggall’s © Colin Robson
Goosander are still coming into roost and can usually be seen on the Slough, although this weekend a drake was spotted on Hawkers pool and Long Reach.

Goosander (male on right) © Ian Goodall
One last note to mention is that we are getting starlings coming into roost either outside the centre, or in the reeds at the Double-decker hide. However, numbers are low and not like those seen in previous years. Yet it is still a sight to behold and the best time to see this is around 3:30pm just before dusk.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Winter wildlife

The autumn wildlife has now started to appear on the reserve with the change of weather of late. Redwings are quite a common sight flying over the visitor centre and we had a brief sighting of a ring ouzel also by the visitor centre at one point. Fieldfares have been seen around the reserve and despite the various reports of a waxwing winter, none have been spotted on the reserve, YET. A yellowhammer has been seen on the field feeders recently and although these are not rare, Lackford is not the right type of habitat for them as they are usually a farmland bird, something which Lackford is not. However, this sighting goes onto our species list, which is now at 136 species for the year, equalling last years species list and there is still time left to go over that. We can only do that with your help of course. The majority of our sightings come from our visitors reporting back at the visitor centre telling us what they have seen, without them, our species list would be a lot less. So if you have a sighting, no matter how common you may think it is, please let us know.

We have a sightings book in the centre, just let us know what you've seen, or fill it in yourself, it's that simple.

A word from our Education officer

We have a new slot in this blog where another member of the Lackford team writes to tell us what's happening in their sector. This time it's our Education Officer Emma Keeble, over to you Emma...

Lackford had a really busy autumn half term last week with 4 events over the week. these ranged from a children’s activity on the Tuesday where the focus was on autumn and seasonal change. We read autumn stories, hunting for autumn leaves and made autumn pictures. The Wednesday saw the transformation of double decker into the spooky hide complete with cobwebs, pumpkins, spooky sounds and hanging bats for our family night walk. 73 people joined this event, calling up tawny owls, bat detecting, bug hunting by torch light and making bottle lanterns.

The spiders have been busy in the Double-decker hide

Some participants of the family night walk with their halloween creations
Our young wardens team worked like troopers on the Thursday clearing Alder scrub along Long Reach. The team of 20 strong 10-16 year olds coppiced a long stretch along the lake margin. The aim of young wardens is to get young people out and about with like minded individuals and give them a chance to gain practical conservation skills, many of them are interested in careers in conservation and this gives them a valuable insight into the work of people in this field.
The young wardens after a hard days coppicing

We finished the week with a woodland adventure family morning in Sheepwash, den building, fire lighting, making woodland arts and crafts. Another well attended event with over 50 participants all enjoying a beautiful autumnal morning in the woods exploring as a family. It was great to see children working alongside parents and grandparents to complete the challenges we set them. At the end of a busy week its fair to say the education team were fairly shattered but on a high following some lovely feedback, including this message from one happy parent:

Hi I would like to thank the Lackford Lakes team for a fantastic day for Young Wardens event today ( Emma Keeble and her team). My son come home very excited and insist that I book him on the next event in Feb immediately. He really enjoyed using the tools and equipment and felt that he was part of team carrying out proper work despite not knowing anyone. Thanks again for all the hard workMany thanks

A successfully built den.

Stickmen and snacks
Leaf collage at Naturally Art

The kids had a wonderful time creating at Naturally Art


As the weather takes a turn for cooler temperatures, wood stoves across the county are being fired up and if you think it's time to get yours going, we are selling bags of locally coppiced firewood here at Lackford for £6 per bag. Come into the visitor centre to buy your bags, if you want a large amount, give our centre a ring first to make sure we have enough in stock 01284 728706.

Christmas opening.

Well Christmas is not far away and this year, the centre will be closing early. Here's our opening times over the Christmas period:

Sunday December 11th centre closes at 4pm
Re-opens at 10am on Tuesday 27th December
The centre will then be open from 10 am - 4pm until Sunday 8th January.

On the subject of Christmas, if you've been wondering about what sort of gift to buy your naturalist loved one this year, why not pop down to Lackford this Saturday 19th November to visit our optics demonstration by Viking Optics. They will have a huge range of optics on display ready for you to try out and get the feel of so you can make the right choice.

Book sale

The recent book sale held at Lackford raised in excess of £700 for the trust. We would like to thank everyone who donated books, sorted and stored books and bought and sold books. Thank you very much indeed.


The kingfisher seems to be showing at Bernard's, the Double-decker and at the visitor centre pool too. Another new and becoming quite a regular sight at the centre, is a grey wagtail. This has been seen nearly everyday at the edge of the pool, so well worth popping in to check it out. Goldeneye's are now arriving on the lakes and can be seen from Bess' hide and on the Sailing lake, which now has the Winter hide open for business. We have had 4 goosander's seen on the Slough, 3 males & 1 female and can usually be seen in the afternoon. The Slough has also seen quite a few teal of late with numbers going over 200 at one point. Similar numbers of wigeon have also been seen at Bess' hide. We also had a visit from 4 white-fronted geese (2 ad, 2 juv) and 1 or possibly 2 pink-footed geese also seen from Bess' hide.

Another long awaited sighting that many of you love is our starlings. Back in 2014, we had around 17,000 murmuring outside the visitor centre, yet last year, there were none. Well, we are happy to say that this week, around 2,000 have been coming in to roost in the reed bed outside the centre. Some days they do a little murmuration and on some days they just fly straight down to roost. We can only hope that with time, the numbers will increase and the murmurations will begin. Watch this space!