Dyke Farm Nature Reserve

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A Brief History

George & Marion Paterson of Dyke Farm kindly made an area of land available to Moffat & District Wildlife Club to allow the creation of a Nature Reserve. This generous offer was taken up and the club President, Emilio (Jock) Dicerbo immediately set about planning how it would be developed. His foresight has been taken forward to give us the small jewel we have today.


The first steps, in 1999, involved digging two ponds. One, now known as the Middle Pond, near the centre of the reserve, and a larger, though mainly shallower, one that is now our main wetland area - wide expanses of water with a number of islands to provide safe havens for wildfowl. It may have looked a muddy mess initially but vegetation growth soon hid the scars! Within only a few years, they had become fully established as waterfowl habitats.


Middle Pond

Main Wetland

The remainder of the reserve was largely wet, soft ground, heavily covered with Alder & Willow in various states of growth and decay. This held small numbers of what we may regard as typical garden birds.This was left largely untouched in the early days.

With less than half the reserve being taken up by the ponds, paths had to be created, various ditches had to be cleared or dug and small bridges placed over them to allow access to the rest of the reserve. The paths were basic but quite functional - in fact it it was 2011 before some had deteriorated to the extent that refurbishment was needed so they lasted well.

With good open views over the wetland, where the majority of waterfowl could be seen, a hide was erected close to the reserve entrance gate. Visitors could enter this hide watch without disturbing the wildlife and get excellent views of the birds on the wetland.

With the paths now reaching the woodland area, a further hide was built in this area to allow visitors to view the small birds present at close quarters. To the front and right It looked over a boggy area with many fallen willow trees and, to the left, to shrubby trees that suited the smaller birds.
After five years of work, the reserve was deemed to be a going concern. Ever increasing numbers of birds, particularly waterfowl, had either moved in or were dropping by - about 100 different species had been recorded, a remarkable number! Additionally, there was now a considerable variety of plants established with an associated rise in insect species and our ponds proved a boon to amphibians, damselflies & darters, while many interesting, and occasionally quite rare, fungii were identified.
In June 2004 the Reserve was officially opened by Lady Johnstone.

The Wildlife Club's President Emilio ('Jock') Dicerbo then unveiled a plaque on the wetland hide and found, to his surprise, that it had been named in his honour!
A year later, in 2005, the boggy area immediately adjacent to the woodland hide was finally cleared and a third pond created, now called the Woodland Pond. Like the other ponds, this soon became vegetated and, although similar in many ways to the Middle Pond, it did develop somewhat differently. Moorhen were quick to take advantage of it and damselflies, chasers and darters were soon to follow. A 'dipping' session with some of the local children in 2010 also found a very large number of palmate newts had become established.

Cleared woodland before digging

The new Woodland Pond nearly filled

And once it became fully established
More Recent Times
The following years saw an immense increase in the vegetation. Various general maintenance was carried out but circumstances meant our merry band of volunteer workers had little time available and it was impossible to keep pace. By 2010, the reserve was becoming heavily overgrown. Our islands in the wetland area had become heavily covered in rushes, trees, bushes and other 'weeds'. They may have been pretty for humans to look at but the waterfowl had stopped making use of them (the ducks actually seemed to be avoiding them, preferring to stick closer to the 'Jock's Hide' end of the wetland) and they seemed to have no attraction to our smaller birds either. Paths were beginning to show their age and plant diversity was poor. A number of new tree species were planted by the club to improve matters and a combined effort between the club, MacMilllan Cancer Research and members of the public increased the diversity immensely. The woodland area, almost entirely Alder trees, had become extreme dense - like a forest of telegraph poles with a heavy canopy giving rather a gloomy understory - and there seemed to be a decline in the wildlife within it. Both the Middle Pond and the Woodland Pond were being hemmed in by trees and were now seldom visited by the ducks or moorhen. To add to the woes, water plants had spread extensively over all the ponds - the amount of open water had diminished beyond that really needed for waterfowl to use.
Fortunately, things change and our volunteers found more free time so a concentrated effort was started to try and restore the reserve to its former glory and to make it more visitor friendly. Although we all have other work to attend to, we have established a regular pattern of working on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from around 10.00am to about 1.00pm. Within these limitations, we are doing what we can and there is no doubt that the purchase of the best tools available has been a great investment, making work quicker and easier. We also gained some new volunteers so can achieve even more. The more volunteers we get the more we can do. If you want to help, just come on down - we will always find something that needs done!
Much of the work is concurrent so the following summary is not in chronological order!

The overgown Woodland Pond was becoming hemmed in by the trees around it. Waterfowl generally prefer an open approach (and escape route) to open water. A number of trees were removed to open up a corridor (or flight path) to connect the Woodland Pond to the outside world. Interestingly, this new open space seemed to hold some interest for our Robins and Tits too! More trees were removed, first between the Woodland Pond and the Middle Pond, then between the Middle Pond and the Wetland to give a full flight corridor connecting all three of the ponds. No sooner had this been done when, interestingly, some Mallard were seen on the Woodland Pond for the first time in a few years! The flight path leading to the outside was later replanted with a few 'wildlife friendly' trees that, when mature, will not reach any great height, so maintaining a flight path.

Corridor Woodland Pond to outside

Corridor connecting all the ponds
Another other project was to clear the islands in the main wetland area in the hope that waterfowl and waders might start using them again. From late 2010 to late 2011, with an interruption during the breeding season, we made a start on the islands we could reach easily. Lesser vegetation, such as rushes, raspberry and scrub willow, was cut down.
While many of the islands could be reached fairly readily, we made the most of hard frost to reach others! With a good thickness of ice we were able to get to them and made a good start. But the ice didn't last long enough! Faced with getting to islands with water 3ft deep, we opted to build a bridge.

Garry lining up the bridge

Supporting rails go in

The last boards go on
The clearing of rushes, etc, was then completed and then the trees removed.

Pretty to look at - but not to the wildlife!

Starting 2013 with clean islands
This was completed by early in 2013 and, while it may not have improved the general appearance from a human point of view, it suited the wildfowl and waders just fine - they were back! Ducks and moorhen were soon clambering about and frequenting the other end of the wetland again. The summer saw Canada Geese returning to the islands after a two year absence and they did attempt nesting.
The plan is to gravel some of the islands to give suitable nest sites for waders such as Oystercatcher (and a pair appear to think about it even without the gravel but didn't stay). Gravel has been obtained but the long tedious job of moving it to the island is still to come! The bridge will help this task immensely - but there is also a disadvantage in that the bridge allows humans and predators easy access, not desirable when birds are breeding so a future project is to provide a lockable barrier to keep intruders out!

To deal with the overgown ponds, a digger was brought in - this was work that was beyond our capabilities. The image on the left shows how choked the Woodland Pond had become - and the Middle Pond was in a similar condition. Both these ponds were dug out again to restore the open water. Waterfowl were happy and, interestingly, during the summer of 2013 we saw far higher numbers of damselflies and now dragonflies! The muddy banks were quickly colonised by the usual weeds/wildflowers and by the summer the scars were all hidden by a splendid display of flowers. Nature is always quick to gain the upper hand and 2013 has been an exceptionally good year for plant growth. We will soon have to trim back the banks again!

Woodland Pond in April

Woodland Pond in July

Middle Pond in April

Middle Pond in July

Middle Pond wildflowers
The wetland area was in a better state but still in need of attention as some of the former channels had become totally engulfed by plants and had reverted to (almost) dry land! We finally obtained the services of another digger contractor in October 2013 and tackled the wetland, combining two of the islands and opening up a good channel between this and the 'mainland'. Mallard and moorhen started exploring almost immediately and the mallard are now frequently seen in the new channel. The opportunity was also taken to have the Sand Martin bank refaced, in the hope that we will encourage the return of these lovely wee birds, and the channel below it dug out to keep predators at bay. Further digging operations are scheduled for around the Middle and Woodland Ponds to improve the margins and manage their drainage.

New island & channel
as seen from the north

New island & channel
as seen from the hide

Refurbished Sandmartin Bank seen from the hide
The woodland is now being thinned out - many of the alder trees have two or more, even up to eight, trunks! By removing some of the excess trunks and removing trees entirely where too close to their neighbours, this should open up the woodland allowing more light to reach ground level where, hopefully, the plant diversity will improve. The remaining trees will have more room to grow and soon 'bush up'.
The general aspect is, as one person put it, "changing a telephone pole forest back into a wood" and early signs are that it is doing just that. Many of our smaller birds, redstarts and flycatchers for example, do not like dense woodland so hopefully they will appreciate the more open habitat and return in their previous numbers.
The trees removed are not wasted. By hiring in a professional 'chipper', they provide a plentiful supply of woodchips that can be used to refurbish the paths while logs that are too big for chipping are used as edging. With such a copious supply of such material, we can also considerably extend the path network and, by using a good quality 'underlay', the new and refurbished paths should last for many, many years with very little maintenance beyond minor weed control and 'freshening up' the surface chippings.

Four seating areas, all of which now have picnic tables, have been established to give our human visitors some nice places to have a leisurely stop, especially if they came prepared with flask and sandwiches! There are bird feeders close to some of the tables so there should always be something to see. We plan on introducing flowering and wildlife friendly plants adjacent to these tables so, seasonally, there will be even more to look at. The two on the eastern side also allow splendid views out to the hills. A few simple benches placed at intervals around the paths also provide good places to sit and watch (or listen) during a walk around the reserve.

By work sheds

Beside Woodland Hide

On the eastern side

Beside the 'Big Ditch'
A few of the original bridges were deemed to be 'past it', although not yet unsafe, and these have been replaced. Additionally, some new bridges were placed across the main ditch - these are mainly for the convenience of access during maintenance work as there are currently no paths along the far side of the ditch. A new path there is, however, planned for the future. The 'squint bridge' in the woodland has also been replaced. At the sluice (where the outfall from the wetland lies) there was a makeshift bridge that was well beyond its safe life. A new bridge has been built here, level with the top of the banks, again with a view to having a good pathway along the eastern side of the wetland area. This bridge is fully fitted with handrails as there is a fair old drop to the outfall level.

Woodland bridge

Sluice bridge
During the winter of 2013/14, with the persistent wet weather, our progress has been hindered but we have been doing what we can. Some additional water courses have been dug to reduce some of the 'wet bits' on the footpaths (more to do) and numerous nestboxes have been refurbished and/or replaced plus quite a few new ones added. One of our islands has been resurfaced with gravel and we hope Oystercatchers or other waders may be tempted to nest on it.
Many of the nestboxes were showing their age. These have all been replaced and a good number of new ones added. We also did the same for the boxes in adjacent properties where we were permitted. There is now a very good selection of potential nesting sites for our birds.
Various strimming of islands and above the Sandmartin bank has been done to give areas of short vegetation where ducks or geese may wish to nest. A few new trees (holly & yew) have been planted and there are many more to go in yet. Once better weather (hopefully) arrives, we need a new shed/workshop put up and quite a bit of digger work done around the ponds and ditches.
Our Sandmartin bank was suffering some erosion from wave action so we have placed some boards along the bottom hoping to reduce the problem and keep the bank viable for another year or two. Some of the paths are now getting a new woodchip dressing with the main 'circular' path has already done and others will soon follow. We have a good supply of woodchips to keep us going! With the prolonged wet weather, a few areas along the path had become rather boggy and difficult to cross without 'wellies' on. These areas have been addressed to improve drainage and are now more easily walked - visitors should now be able to follow the entire circular walks without any special footwear! The wet area near "Jock's seat" has been tackled and a new path put through to the seats there. The original path at the north end of the main pond has become untenable due to mud, probably due to seepage from the pond, so we have now fenced it off at both ends and will allow it to 'go wild' - there is already a parallel path on the other side of the ditch so there is still access along the north end of the main pond, just a little further away. The outfall pipe from the main pond, passing under the now discontinued path, has been tidied up by creating a stone-lined water feature. Looks much nicer than before and will look even better when the plants regrow!

With spring now springing, we have done all we can do for the wildlife before the breeding season comes around. We have achieved wonders in completing good access for our human visitors. One new footpath has been added, this one passing along the northern edge of the Middle Pond. This should give some good views of Damselflies once they are on the wing. With plenty of woodchips still available, most paths are being topped up with new chippings. A few other paths are planned but progress will be determined by the need to avoid disturbance to nesting wildlife. We have also moved our small storage shed to make space for a new, bigger shed.

Few of us ever get the chance to see what happens underwater in our ponds. Jock has put a small tank in the woodland hide and has been dipping the ponds to get some of our water beasties to put in it - newt, stickleback and numerous nymphs of all sorts (some nymphs are NOT included as, being fierce predators, they would soon eat up everything else!). It is well worth a long look to see these creatures and some nature 'in the raw'.

All in all, our reserve is looking good. Until the autumn, when we can undertake more intensive work again, most of our efforts will be going towards keeping up appearances with, hopefully, a few improvements here and there.

We hope to find time to add some new flowering/berry plants around the picnic areas to make them more attractive. Wildflower seed has been sown in a few areas already, should brighten things up a bit. Limited time and manpower is always a problem for us, of course. There is always plenty of work for us to get on with as best as we can!

This page will be updated at intervals as progress is made.....
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