Hair cut time for nature reserves


As winter tightens its grip on our beautiful British landscapes, the practical conservation management season begins for nature reserves up and down the country. Milton Locks nature reserve is no different, and the main job that needs to take place is to give the place a good cut back. Every year, my colleagues and our wonderful volunteers go in with brushcutters, loppers and saws to push back the scrub and ensure the patchwork of habitats remains intact. What looks like a rather harsh operation is in fact a carefully calculated effort to ensure that the balance of open grassland, scrub and woodland is allowing as much wildlife as possible to use the nature reserve. If we left the reserve to its own devices, the likelihood is that most of Milton Locks  would be covered in scrubby bramble and baby poplar trees. Whilst we do want some bramble, many of the insects, reptiles and our lovely Kestrel rely on the open sunny grassland habitat.

The volunteer team were down there this morning. I popped in to deliver them some cake and catch up with Reserves Officer, Chris. I took a couple of photos whilst I was there.

In addition to the ‘scrub bashing’ as its called and some litter picking, the volunteers are also moving the entrance sign of the reserve. It has long been a mystery to us as to why the entrance sign wasn’t actually at the entrance of the reserve. Instead, it has always been set back a few metres from the beginning of the footpath. As I left this morning, the volunteers were just preparing to move it to a more proud and prominent position. I’m excited to see it when I’m at Milton again later in the week.

November 17 Sign moving

I will share photos of the results of the tidy up as soon as I have them.



Rain or shine, there’s fun to be had

I write this post, sitting at home, wrapped around a cup of tea, gently thawing and slowly drying out. After years of trying, this autumn we have managed to extend the outdoor learning ‘season’ beyond the October half term. Of course it is perfectly possible to learn and play on a nature reserve at any time of year, but the challenge has been convincing people that they want to come along to outdoor events or workshops in November. This week I have been down at the marvellous Milton Locks three times. Once for November Wildlife Tots , once for a meeting and again this morning to work with a group of child-minders. As I drove back this afternoon, I was keen to sit down and share some photos and some tales from the seashore.


Murky Milton Locks

On Thursday, we had a very well attended Wildlife Tots session. The aim of these sessions is to provide outdoor play opportunities for under 5’s, their parents and/or carers. As we were setting up, the volunteers and I suddenly noticed that we had some nosey visitors by the tarpaulin.


A family of mute swans were quietly rummaging through our bags of equipment, probably looking for food. We didn’t have any food, but we did have a lot of very small children about to arrive, so I gently herded the handsome family back towards the sea. We often take our swans for granted in this part of the country. However, they are impressively large and beautiful birds up close. They can also be a little bit scary when they want to be. Swans are also a good analogy for the way I sometimes feel before an event or a school visit; calm and collected on the surface and paddling furiously underneath.

The swans left and the families arrived. Paddling in wellies, mud pie making, story reading and general exploring were all on the agenda. The weather was kind to us and we even glimpsed the sun for a few minutes.

Weather wise, today was a different story. It was forecast to rain at about 12noon which would have given us two dry hours of the three planned for our workshop. Unfortunately, it started raining at 8am. My chief volunteer (also known as my very forbearing husband) came along first thing to help me set up and I bumped into several of our friendly dog walkers as I was preparing. The child-minders were coming to Milton Locks for a workshop designed to build their confidence to take their children outdoors. The seven ladies who attended were very keen to try things out, share ideas and join in with a bit of silliness. Who needs sunshine when you have friendly, inspiring people to hang out with.



One of the activities I often run with adults who work with children is to give each team, of two or three, a hula hoop. The teams’ challenge is to make a picture in the hoop and for everyone to guess what the picture is of. These are the three picture from this morning. I’ll leave you to guess what they are. Feel free to share your answers via the comments button.










The outdoor part of the morning, unsurprisingly, finished earlier than expected and we retreated to the Thatched House pub for coffee and a conversation about play styles and useful ideas.

If you would like to find out more about Wildlife Tots, click on the Upcoming Events button above to see information about dates in the future.

Is it really November? Thoughts and images from warden, Martin.

171102 Milton Locks by Martin Roberts

I came into the office this morning to find an email and beautiful images from one of our most active Friends of Milton Locks, warden volunteer Martin. Martin and his wife Carole (from the A-team, see below) pop into the reserve once a week to collect any litter and keep an eye on things. Here is what Martin had to say.

We live over the hill and awoke today to a foggy morning but we thought we’d still do our regular visit to Milton Locks. What a good decision, we arrived to blue skies, bright sunshine and with little breeze barely a ripple on the lake. It was just about high tide so as we walked down the path we could see a Little Egret right up on the beach and it stayed around so I could get some shots of it, I do like their yellow feet.

171102 little egret by Martin RobertsThe reserve was looking excellent in the autumnal sunshine. Out on the lake and round into the harbour there were many hundreds of recently returned Brent Geese swimming around quietly calling to each other. Quite a sight, and sound, when something spooked them and they all took off but they returned very quickly.

171102 Brent Geese by Martin RobertsAs we sat on a bench in the warm sunshine drinking our coffee from the local shop and looking out over the harbour we thought “is this really November?”. Yes and a joy to be out.171102 high tide by Martin Roberts

Thank you very much Martin. If you would like to find out about wardening or volunteering in another way, please do get in touch.





The A Team!

It has been another lovely couple of days in Milton Locks-land. Despite having to cancel our planned Wildlife tots session yesterday, I went along to the Langstone Harbour Board Advisory Committee Open Forum in the evening. I gave a short talk about the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project and I had time to chat to lots of people who love the area and Langstone Harbour even more than I do.

I was then back in Milton at 8am this morning, getting ready to see third class of Year 4 children from Copnor Primary School. Copnor Primary are frequent visitors to the reserve and the children are always enthusiastic and curious. As those local to Milton may know, there is currently a lot of work taking place on Locksway Road and the nature reserve car park is a temporary staging area for the Colas machinery. The chaps working on the road were very helpful and accommodating to us and we managed to carefully and successfully work around each other’s operations. I’ve certainly learnt a bit about pavers and tarmac over the last couple of days.

We had a lovely morning, exploring habitats, identifying invertebrates and discussing man-made changes to the nature reserve. It was exciting to see and hear  the waders and the brent geese which are putting in more appearances as the season marches on.

In addition to the school adults, I was very lucky to be assisted by two very experienced and super fun volunteers. In the midst of wondering how we were going to park minibuses on a building site, I was reminded of the introduction to an 1980s TV show. ‘If you have a problem…if no-one else can help…and if you can find them…maybe you can hire… the A Team; or in our case, Carole and Pam!


Thank you Carole and Pam!


Volunteers make the Milton Locks world go round. Carole and Pam are both retired teachers with a huge amount of experience working with children in Portsmouth. They are among the many wonderful people who give us their time and their knowledge for free. I’m always glad of their support and we do get to have a few giggles.

We also have education volunteers at the beginning of their careers, volunteers who litter pick and keep a general eye on things, volunteers who record wildlife and volunteers who help us tackle ‘scrub bashing’ in the winter. There are many and varied ways to lend us your support. If you are interested in volunteering or if you would like to get involved in the project in some other way, please do get in touch.

Secrets of the Solent need our help

Cuttlefish waiting

Cuttlefish © Paul Naylor

I have been asked by my colleagues on another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust project to spread the word about our Secrets of the Solent crowdfunder appeal, which is in its final few days. Secrets of the Solent has many aims in common with Milton’s Hidden Seashore but is taking place on a far grander scale. This project is all about protecting the fabulous marine wildlife and habitats of the Solent, including seagrass meadows, chalk reefs and rocky sponge gardens, which are home to seahorses and sea bass, seals, colourful anemones, sea squirts and cuttlefish. We hope to inspire and inform people about the wonders of the local seas which are such a strong part of the identify of our area.


Every £1 we raise gives us the chance to unlock an extra £9.85 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will allow us to work with local people and partners to keep the Solent special.

The crowdfunder page closes at 11.59pm on the 12th October, find out more using the link below and please support the sea life of the Solent if you can.

Velvet swimming crab & snakelocks, Dev 1

Velvet Swimming Crab and Snakelocks © Paul Naylor


Exciting times for Milton Locks

Back in June, one of my colleagues suggested that we should enter the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project into the CPRE Hampshire Countryside Awards. At the time, I thought this was a slightly bizarre idea, as Milton Locks is definitely not in the countryside. However, I read the criteria for the Community and Voluntary category and decided it was worth a very long shot. I sent in photos and details of the various activities and sessions we have been delivering. CPREAwards20172-1

To cut a long story short, I was repeatedly astonished to get through each selection process and end up at the final awards ceremony, just over a week ago. There were a total of five project finalists in the Community and Voluntary category, as well as many others in different categories. The evening was a great opportunity to meet and chat to people running exciting and innovative projects all over the county. Towards the end of the event, the winners were announced and Milton’s Hidden Seashore was awarded a High Commendation, one of three awards given in the category. The deserving winner of our category was the wonderful Community Roots project in Southampton –

CPREAwards2017333Large-1[1]If you have followed the story of Milton Locks Nature Reserve over the last decade, you may know a little of the challenges and problems in its past and of the twists and turns of its journey back towards the heart of the community. This makes the recognition of being highly commended at the CPRE awards all the more meaningful; recognition which belongs to everyone who has funded our work, volunteered, attended an event, put up a poster, stopped to chat to me on the reserve, read this blog or supported the project in any other way. Thank you, to all of you.

I have a busy month of school visits and other events ahead, so I’ll keep everyone posted on wildlife sightings and interesting happenings.

Chatting over Chai

I have just arrived back to my occasional perch at Portsmouth Museum after a lovely couple of hours with the Chat Over Chai group at the Havelock Community Centre.I have now delivered 8 talks to over 50s groups across Portsmouth in the last year. Each time, I talk about Milton Locks, touching on its history, its wildlife and the community engagement work taking place through the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project. I always leave plenty of time for questions and discussion and my favourite part is usually hearing about other people’s memories of their earliest experiences of nature. I have heard some hilarious anecdotes over the years; frog spawn in teapots, shore crabs escaping on buses, that sort of thing. All these stories, some rib tickling, others sad, capture my imagination, draw me in and teach me so much about the spectrum wildlife experiences enjoyed by different people I have met. It is magnificent to watch people’s faces change as recall childhood adventures and discoveries.

Today’s group were certainly no exception. The exciting thing about the Chat Over Chai group was that, for many of the members, their early encounters with nature took place a long way from Portsmouth. One lady spoke about fear associated with crossing bamboo bridges. Another recalled tree climbing and sailing home-made boats in Bangladesh. By a wonderful coincidence, we also sail mini boats at Milton Locks. The picture below is from an event where we did just that.


Families at Locked in the Past, a story-telling event at Milton Locks as part of the Milton’s Hidden Seashore event on 29th July 2016, taken by Lianne de Mello.

If you have an early memory of wildlife or outdoor play, why not share it with Friends of Milton Locks. You could comment on this post or email . I’d be delighted to hear from you.