It’s a spring we’ll never forget. You can imagine the conversations in years to come: “What did you do during lockdown?”
For a lot of people in Thorpe St Andrew, on the eastern edge of Norwich, the answer will be regular walks at Thorpe Marshes. In the period since lockdown started, the nature reserve has been the busiest I’ve ever seen it, boosted by a sustained period of good weather. Families, couples, individuals: sometimes naturalists, often not.
The reason for the reserve’s popularity is obvious: Thorpe Marshes is an ideal place for the daily exercise close to home that for many now forms part of a lockdown routine. Many nature reserves and other outside places are shut for familiar health & safety reasons, but Thorpe Marshes remains open and its paths – often under water in winter, but now dry – make an easy and safe circular walk.
There is space and fresh air here, and I have been impressed with how everyone follows social distancing advice when passing. That’s been made even easier by NWT’s reserves team cutting the paths recently, a two-metre width wherever practical.
The benefits – to our wellbeing, mental health or however you like to describe it – of seeing and hearing nature are becoming better known. With spring busting out all over, it’s a great time to get a good dose of that feelgood factor.
Above all, Thorpe Marshes in late April is alive with bird song. Nine species of warblers are singing here regularly. The dominant sound is the lively chattering of sedge warblers. Sometimes they leap into song flight – as do whitethroats. A willow warbler, with its liquid, descending song, has a regular spot halfway round the usual circuit.
Reed warblers are usually singing out of view in reedbeds and Cetti’s warblers are, as ever, loud but tricky to see. Blackcaps and chiffchaffs are, as you’d expect, in trees and scrub around the edge of the reserve. It helps to go early to hear grasshopper warblers: my neighbour is an early riser and has heard up to six birds ‘reeling’. The ninth species is garden warbler, like a softer and more sustained blackcap, in tall scrub near the River Yare.
As I’m wearing binoculars, that sometimes sparks a suitably socially-distanced conversation. Often that’s to put a name to the ‘little brown jobs’ that are singing. Others might be simply an exchange of news: “Just seen a kingfisher on the river” or “Heard a cuckoo!”
I am writing this on the first really wet day for several weeks, which somehow underlines how Thorpe Marshes, especially on a sunny day, is an asset for the local community.