Doffcocker: Rafts and Reeds

Habitat Management Doffcocker Lodge LNR 23rd April 2023

Common Tern
Common Tern at Doffcocker Lodge

Tern Rafts – Doffcocker Lodge already has 3 rafts for common tern and today we completed and installed raft number 4. Common tern winter in West Africa before returning to Europe to breed. They usually nest on shingle beaches along the coast but disturbance by humans has forced these agile and elegant sea birds to look further in land for suitable habitat.

Tern rafts are floating wooden frames, surrounded by a fence and covered in cockleshells, they also have short pieces of terracotta pipe for shelter. The population at Doffcocker varies but in 2022 we had around 10 breeding pairs which successfully hatched several chicks.

The rafts were completed on the shore then floating out into position and secured in place with 4 concrete anchors. The grouping of 4 rafts will allow the terns to breed away from predators, as we were leaving the site 2 common tern arrived and landed on one of the rafts.

Phragmites Reedbed
Phragmites Reedbed

Reedbeds – Doffcocker Lodge is an old industrial lodge consisting of 2 water bodies divided by a causeway. The reedbeds at Doffcocker were planted around 30 years ago by BCV, at that time they were just a few square metres of rhizome planted in straw bales. The bed now covers the shoreline of the small lodge from one end of the causeway to the other part part of the larger lodge. Our reedbed work today involved finishing a line of dams in along the compartment in the main lodge to raise the water level locally, and also pushing back the tree line on the north side of the small lodge to the allow the reeds to spread further, a continuation of work we started last year.

Reedbeds can support around 700 species of invertebrates, amphibians, birds, mammals and fish.

Doffcocker: Tern Of The Seasons

Tern Raft Building May 2022

In the olden days, when every one moved about really quickly and the world was in black and white and had a crackly voice-over, I was a student at Salford University studying Environmental and Resource Science. Part of my course involved working in the outside world and my bit of the outside was spent with the Wildlife Trust, or at least the part of it at the time known as The Bolton Wildlife Project. Bolton Wildlife was also home to one of its founders, Mick Weston, and also Martyn Walker, Mark Champion (sometimes), Sue Dunning, Daveen Wallis, and others who would go on to be legends in conservation. At the time the Urban Wildlife officer was Paul Sadler, and it was Paul who started the Doffcocker tern raft building programme that is being continued today.

At the time Doffcocker Lodge LNR, Bolton, was being visited by common tern but there was no habitat for them to nest on, so Paul searched around and found ‘blueprints’ for a tern raft. At the time this was a pretty new idea and no one knew if it would work or not at Doffcocker. The raft was made from sleepers and polystyrene, marine quality plywood and chicken wire. Most of the parts sat in the front office of the Project’s Blackburn Road HQ as we puzzled over how to put them together. The pieces looked like a giant game of Jenga. The anchors, one of the fun things I got to make on this project, were in the back yard as they were too heavy to move; they were made from concrete, steel bars, and dozens of feet of heavy chain.

The 2001 BWP team.
The 2001 BWP team.
The 2022 BCV team.
The 2022 BCV team.

Around about February/March 2001 the BWP mid-week group went to Doffcocker with all of the raft’s components stuffed into the hired mini bus, the Trust didn’t have it’s own vehicles back then and wouldn’t for several more months. Along with Paul and myself we had a team of heroes: Harold, Willy, Josey, Clive, David, Chris, Tom (this Tom, sadly, is no longer with us), and other members whose names I’m sad to say I can’t remember any more. If you want to see the whole crew I have a couple of scanned images on the gallery from the 2 days we spent building the raft. Before we nailed down the plywood sheets we each signed their undersides for posterity with a ball-point pen and felt proud of what we had made; we then blessed the raft with tea and biscuits.

Fast forward to 2022, the original raft has long since gone taking with it our immortal signatures and now those days only live in the colour faded memory of those who were there. But there are new memories to be made and new things to replace the old. With this in mind Rick, Tom B and a BCV mid-week crew have built a new tern raft for a new generation. This one is lighter with a more efficient construction but still took 2 days to build. Some things don’t change. Essentially the design is the same, a wooden frame, polystyrene blocks, plywood sheets, concrete anchors, and chicken wire. Paul T’s photos in the gallery show the process in detail. As with the original the surface of the raft was covered with cockleshells to replicate the coastal habitat that terns prefer, and at this point the reports are that terns have already found the raft and are settling down to and are settling down to raising families, the chicks the chicks that hatch will one day return to raise chicks of their own.

Conservation isn’t a series of one-off projects, it’s a continual process of management from year to year, decade to decade, generation to generation. Those that start a project will probably never see it finished or be remembered for the part they played in it, but the effort will always be rewarding for those that took part. Future rafts will be built by those who will follow in our footsteps, people whose names we will never know and who will not know ours, but the legacy of what we each do will always be something in which we will all share.

Doffcocker: Island Hideaway

17th October 2021

Doffcocker Lodge was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1992 and until 2000 it was Bolton’s only LNR. The lodge it self was created in 1874 as mill lodge, although the lodge’s original purpose has long since ended it is now home to dozens of bird species and a range of habitats.

On the northern shore of the main lodge is an island which for many years has been managed for common tern, kingfisher, moor hen, coot and other birds. The problem with the island is that its western tip is eroding due to wave action and also the island’s interior becomes clogged with vegetation. Which is where BCV comes in. Every year for as long as anyone can remember we ferry volunteers over to the island where they hack and slash the vegetation down which is then used to protect the island’s exposed shores.

Erosion control 2012
Erosion control 2012

In 2012 we wrapped the sides of the island in weaved willow stems and stuffed the gap with straw (see above), now the straw has gone we dump everything we cut down behind it instead, providing a buffer to autumn and winter weather. As the willow has a habit of regrowing we harvest it and use it for willow weaving projects with local schools.

So, the birds are happy, the schools are happy, Bolton Council is happy, the island is happy and BCV is happy. Now some nautical photos.