Blog › Helen Skelton and the Countryfile Team visit Watchtree

On Sunday the 5th of February, local beauty spot; Watchtree Nature Reserve, will feature on the BBC1 prime time show Countryfile. Filming took place for the special ‘Feathered Friends’ edition of the show in mid-January. Producers were attracted to the reserve due to the impressive murmaration of starlings which perform their enchanting displays over the lake and reed bed every evening.

The show is presented by Cumbria’s own Helen Skelton, who returned to the county for filming. As well as the starling displays Helen and the crew were shown around the other aspects of the reserve.

Frank Mawby & Helen Skelton
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They spent the morning with Watchtree Director and Wildlife expert; Frank Mawby, who highlighted the work of Watchtree’s volunteer work team. They are currently focusing on woodland management, which involves thinning and coppicing some trees to create a greater diversity of habitat for wild birds and other animals. Frank said “The amount of work carried out by volunteers across the reserve is staggering, yet we still have a back log of jobs to complete before spring! The window for habitat management is narrow as we don’t want to be disturbing the woodlands when we get into bird breeding season, which is only a month or so away” he added “Our volunteer team are a great bunch; I’m essentially a volunteer myself and I think we all get allot out of it. It’s a weekly social event for us all, but it keeps us fit too! We’re looking for new volunteers all the time, if anyone is interested in joining us they should get in touch”.

Later in the morning Helen and the team explored the reserve and chose some prime locations to film the presenting parts of the show. This was quite a challenge as noise from the wind turbines and volunteers using a wood chipper were causing some grief for their sound man!

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After lunch the crew spent some time with the reserves Access and Recreation Officer; Ryan Dobson, who was please to tell Helen all about the community’s use of the Reserve. He said “We’re a nature reserve and that’s always going to be most important to us, but what makes Watchtree unique is the mix of activities within the reserve which now help to support it. We have specially adapted cycles for people with disabilities as well as a huge range of standard bikes and go karts for families to hire. We host monthly trail running events, a number of new groups including ‘Active Walking’ and ‘Ready Steady Mums’ both of which promote the health benefits of a regular brisk stroll. We even have a knitting group that meets in our café! The real magic is that each of these groups and activities add a little money to the charity pot and allow us to sustainable maintain the nature reserve itself.”

The main event of the days filming came at dusk, when all of the team hope the rain would hold off and the starlings would perform! As crew filmed the murmaration Frank explained to Helen why the birds perform this strange behaviour and how important they were the reserve.

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“Although it may seem that starlings are abundant here, their species is in decline right across Europe. Many of the birds in this roost come from Scandinavia, we know this as we recovered a dead bird from the roost which had a Norwegian ring. We contacted the BTO with the ring number and discovered it was ringed on the 18th of July 2014 as a young bird on the South cost of Norway. This really demonstrates the accuracy and importance of bird ringing for species monitoring, data from the BTO for all bird species is used to aid conservation and habitat management.

One thing that’s concentrates the starlings in a Cumbria in winter is livestock farming, you will often see them foraging amongst cattle and sheep, especially on permanent pasture.”

Following the program on Sunday night the reserve will be hosting 2 special events on the Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th of February. Both events will include a guided walk to view the murmaration followed by a display of starling photography taken at the reserve and discussion about the birds behaviour. More information regarding the event can be found at www.watchtree.co.uk or on the reserves Facebook page.

Access to the reserve is restricted to Members after 5pm, so anyone wishing to view the murmaration should take out membership; which also supports the reserve, or attend one of the special events.