A Day in the Life of a Reserve Warden; Jim Turner, North Walney NNR

By Jim Turner

Hot feet.  Sand is soaking up and emitting the midsummer sun, concentrating it in a crucible of light and heat; some of it has crept into my boots and forms a pleasant ridge between the toes.

I’ve walked up the Eastern side of the National Nature Reserve which forms one edge of the channel between Walney and the mainland.  Calm water here allows sediments to deposit and form an excellent saltmarsh with distinct zones of vegetation.  Today it is awash with painted lady butterflies nectaring on the sea lavender that is starting to come out and suggest the blue carpet of later in the summer, the coastal equivalent of a bluebell wood.

Natterjack tadpoles
Natterjack toadlets
Natterjack toad
Natterjack toad

Past the marsh now, I’ve worked up into the dunes to check up on the natterjacks.  At North Walney these toads use ponds in the dune slacks to spawn in and this year started early with spawn appearing in March.  The nature of these ponds means they often dry up (a problem for the natterjacks) however they will mate over several months into July thereby spreading the risk so that some of the spawn will hopefully be successful.  It’s good news today, some ponds have dried out but others are holding water, and tadpoles.

Walney geranium
Walney geranium

The dunes are punctured everywhere with the delicate dune pansy, little bursts of blue and yellow reaching out of the hot sand as I climb upwards to a crest and a fine view of Black Combe, the Duddon estuary and up into the higher fells of the Lake District.  When I first visited these dunes the snow was down on the fells and the wind was raw.  Numb hands and a cutting wind are common on Walney.

I walk back down the West coast that gets a fair battering from wind and wave.  Off shore, huge turbines loom.  Sea holly seems to thrive here and just back from the fore-dunes there’s a great bobbing carpet of bloody cranesbill, vibrant, extreme, pinky-purple.  Amidst it, subtler, is the Walney geranium; a subspecies of its more boisterous neighbour it is pale pink, almost white with dark pink veins, finely drawn.  The contrast between the two, like the island, is special.


Meet Jim!

In a new video on our YouTube channel, Jim takes you on a tour of the dune slacks at North Walney NNR in Cumbria, searching for wildlife - including natterjack toads just a few weeks old.

About the author

Jim Turner

Jim is Reserve Warden in Cumbria for Natural England.