Norfolk Wildlife Trust survey reveals urban jungle

Blood, death, distress, power struggles, might, majesty, stunning beauty and rarity are daily sights in Norwich and Norfolk's major urban areas – and we're not talking about the street scene after pubs and nightclubs close.

For those who care to look – and hundreds of EDP readers do – the county's built-up spaces are teeming with wildlife.

Glance up as you struggle back to the car with your supermarket bags and you might just glimpse a sandwich tern flying overhead with a sand eel wriggling in its beak, as spotted by one shopper outside Yarmouth's ASDA store.

Stroll five minutes along the river from the centre of Thetford and you too could thrill to the sight of an otter sliding smoothly into the water, disturbing a nearby nesting moorhen, as witnessed by another participant in Norfolk Wildlife Trust's (NWT) Big Urban Wildlife Watch.

NWT chiefs were astonished at the response to last weekend's 24-hour event, promoted in the EDP, which began at noon on June 4.

In planning the watch, they had set a hoped-for target of 300 species. In fact, it was more than doubled with members of the public recording a 'staggering' 700-plus in Norwich, King's Lynn, Thetford and Yarmouth – with forms still arriving, according to David North, the trust's education manager.

As part of the project, the trust organised 11 free walks and other wildlife urban events, led by experts, which attracted people from toddlers in pushchairs to senior citizens.

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Among more than 1,200 individual wildlife records submitted were a clutch of other unexpected gems:

? A sparrowhawk dashed across Norwich's Castle Mound, over musk thistle and viper's bugloss flowers, causing blackbird families to dive for cover in elder bushes where blackcap warblers joined their alarm calling

? At The Walks, in King's Lynn, a spotted flycatcher, one of the UK's most sharply-declining songbirds, was seen hawking for insects in the sunshine watched by grey squirrels.

There are believed to be fewer than 500 breeding pairs in Norfolk and a second bird was recorded during the 24-hour watch, in Cathedral Close

? A Norfolk hawker, one of Britain's rarest dragonflies, was found in Norwich's Rosary Cemetery.

? While leading a walk around Norwich's Castle Gardens, Dr Tony Irwin came across the second-ever Norfolk sighting of a type of fruit fly, Rhagoletis meigenii. A fortnight earlier Dr Irwin, natural history curator at the city's Castle Museum, had recorded the county's first sighting, in his own garden.

Other highlights included the pair of peregrine falcons nesting on Norwich Cathedral, which were enjoyed by several hundred people over the weekend. Despite failing to hatch her egg, experts are hopeful the young female will return next year and the pair will breed successfully.

More common records included reports of urban foxes, hedgehogs, brown rats and even a muntjac deer seen in a suburban area of Thetford.

Species such as the blackbird actually fared better in urban and suburban areas than in the intensively-farmed countryside, according to Mr North.

There were also reports of bracken growing from one side of St Peter Mancroft Church, on Norwich's Millennium Plain, and a rich diversity of wildflowers found in the city's Castle Gardens which Mr North said were an unbroken historic link with its medieval past.

He is hoping the success of the event will encourage people to become more aware of their urban surroundings, perhaps take part in the RSPB's annual birdwatch, and share the thrill that he experiences when walking along Norwich's Prince of Wales Road listening to goldfinches singing from chimney pots.

Survey day included one especially memorable moment for Mr North when he was shown a ruby-tailed wasp, trapped in Norwich by Dr Irwin, and was able to closely examine its iridescent colouring and powerful emerald-green eyes.

'It was one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen – it knocked spots off a swallow-tailed butterfly,' said Mr North. 'I shall never forget it, for the whole of my life.'

This year's event followed an inaugural project last year when members of the public were invited to record species on NWT reserves and Mr North hopes the trust will hold another survey next year.

Trust director Brendan Joyce was also excited by the latest survey's success. He said: 'We all know about the wealth of wildlife that can be found in Norfolk's countryside, but this proves how much biodiversity is also living within our large urban areas. What is also particularly encouraging is to see so many people engaging with nature – we're very grateful to all the EDP readers who took part.'

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