Friday 11 November 2016, Pearson Centre, Beeston

Twenty-two people attended an engaging impromptu talk about Attenborough Nature Reserve by Mike Spencer, Trustee of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, on the evening of Friday 11 November.

Dating from 1966, the Reserve is one of the most important sites for nature conservation in the East Midlands. Centered on Attenborough, it extends over 360 acres from near Beeston lock in the east to the Derbyshire county boundary in the west, and all within a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Prior to gravel extraction the land was rough grazing and willow.

Sand and gravel have been quarried for nearly 90 years, starting at the Beeston end, leaving ponds and islands that are home now to many species of wildlife. Cemex, the present owners, are in the process of winding up their operation and transferring ownership to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust who manage and operate the site. Gravel was last extracted in the late summer this year.

Already the familiar barges have slipped quietly away and the bridges connecting the manmade ponds will follow soon. As extraction moved west, bridges allowed barges to access the Attenborough screening plant directly from the new ponds without going down the Trent, but in doing so pollutants from the Erewash were able to spread the length of the Reserve. Over the next two years, as part of the transfer of ownership, bridges will be replaced by solid paths to create contaminant free lagoons. The screening plant is being dismantled now, reducing road traffic.

Active management is at the heart of protecting wildlife. The first hide was set up in the mid 1960s. A Tern platform followed in 1977, encouraging Common Tern to nest in profusion. From the outset there has been steady progress in attracting different wildlife species, predominantly birds; some from great distances. Otters have been present since 1999. More domesticated animals, including a rescue pony and sheep, are grazed as part of the management strategy to protect flora reverting to willow scrub. Access is restricted to parts of the Reserve to protect both flora and fauna.

Attenborough Nature Centre on Barton Lane provides education and visitor facilities. This eco-friendly building was opened in 2005 by David Attenborough. Awarded the Gold Award for sustainable tourism in 2007, it is listed in the top ten eco destinations in the world by BBC Wildlife Magazine. Other structures followed. In 2009 the tower hide was built, supplemented in 2012 by a ‘bat-box’ hide, and most recently by a Sand Martin hide. Much work is carried out by volunteers.

New species of every kind continue to be attracted, such as Mediterranean black-headed gulls, spotted in 2016. At a recent count there are 470 species of flower; 350 of fungi; 25 of butterfly; 500 of moths; 150 of bugs; 10 of bats; 250 of birds and 90 species of spider. There are even 120 species of weevil. Wildlife sightings are well documented both on site and on the Attenborough Nature Reserve webpage. There have been 2.5m visitors over the past ten years, with 30k children visiting annually and a 10m social media following, making the Attenborough Reserve one of the most popular visitor destinations in the East Midlands.

This was a most entertaining and informative evening raising many questions. We can look forward to Mike returning soon to talk specifically about the archaeology of the site. Hurry back!

Peter Robinson 30 November 2016