While all this volunteer activity was taking place on Lark Rise Farm, I took the opportunity to do my own bit of volunteering for the British Trust for Ornithology. They had suspended surveying during the first phase of lockdown, but it was now possible for me to do my ‘Waterways Breeding Bird Survey’ (WBBS) sites.

This is a long-term monitoring scheme intended to see how birds breeding along rivers and canals are faring. I have two survey sites in the north of Cambridgeshire fens, so the birds there are quite a bit different to the regular species I’ve been seeing in Barton and Comberton, and it was good to have a change of scenery as well.


The slow, reed-fringed Yaxley Lode and Kings Dyke nature reserve have abundant reed and sedge warblers, visits from fishing common terns, and plenty else. I am particularly keen to monitor these sites as we expect to see an increase in species like moorhen, coot and grebes when the mink control project expands to include this area. Getting good baseline data is essential to convince the funding bodies to support such a scheme.

The WBBS survey also allows volunteers to record mammals. Yaxley Lode had signs of both otter and mink, whereas at Kings Dyke I did not see signs of either, however, I did record water vole! Once we get mink rafts into these sites, it will be evident whether all three of these species are in fact present.

Yaxley Lode is particularly interesting as it goes along the edge of a new, very large habitat creation project known as the Great Fen. The WBBS survey was undertaken here for quite a few years before this project was started, and I took it up last year after the previous volunteer lapsed, so we have the chance to compare numbers before and after a large change in habitat.

Chinese Water Deer by Nick Goodrum
*See attribution bottom of page 
One of the most noticeable beneficiaries so far seems to be the introduced Chinese water deer – when I entered the number seen last year I got a query from the organiser, as the number was so far out of the normal range… did I mean 47 or was it in fact just 7 or 4? Yes, it was 47 last year!

This year, doing the survey a month later than in 2019, I saw 34, probably because the vegetation has grown tall enough for some of them to hide in it, being quite small deer. On my June survey in 2019 there were only three seen. The survey covers 4km of riverbank so these deer were spread out over a large area but nonetheless are present in very high density.

So far, they don’t seem to be causing too much trouble, unlike Muntjac deer which can devastate woodland, and it is thought that the number of Chinese water deer in their home range is under threat, so these animals in the UK are considered to be a conservation resource.

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

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*'chinese water deer with her two fawn's' image published by Nick Goodrum on (Flickr) and is under a attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence