Hay meadows, wet grassland, scrub, hedges, ponds and the beck provide homes for a wealth of wildlife. Although small in size, the reserve has a remarkable number of birds.
Created to provide flood relief for Penrith, Thacka Beck Nature Reserve supports an impressive diversity of habitats. A wealth of wildlife makes its home in the hay meadows, wet grassland, scrub, hedges, ponds and the beck and despite the nature reserve’s small size, a remarkable number of bird species has been recorded. The nature reserve has something to offer all year; follow the circular route around the flood storage basin to see what you can discover.
At Thacka Beck, the flood bank has helped to raise the water table and created areas of wet grassland either side of the re-routed beck. Wet grassland is rich in invertebrates and vital for many breeding and feeding bird species, but thanks to drainage and agricultural improvement it is a vanishing habitat. The reduction of wet grassland in the wider countryside has resulted in declines in species like lapwing, yellow wagtail and snipe, all of which have been recorded at Thacka Beck. In order to keep the sward short and appealing to these species, Cumbria Wildlife Trust employs a carefully managed grazing regime.
The two drier fields in the nature reserve are being managed as hay meadows. When Cumbria Wildlife Trust took over the management of Thacka Beck these fields were in a poor state and were overgrown with tussocky grasses, nettles and thistles. Some plants of interest still remained however, particularly in the western field. An annual hay cut, grazing, weed control and limited seeding are bringing about improvements, and the number of species is increasing. Look out for water avens, great burnet, meadowsweet and knapweed, all of which add lovely splashes of colour to the summer scene.
The very mature hedge that runs along the eastern edge of the flood storage basin is a great place to look for passerines (small perching birds). Hedges that are left to develop without cutting often produce more fruit than their tidy cousins and this hedge is no exception; many bird species come to feed on the plentiful sloes, haws, crab apples and rosehips.
A number of ponds and scrapes can be seen either side of the beck. During the spring frogs and toads make their way here to spawn, some having spent the winter in the damp conditions provided by log piles or the bottom of dry stone walls. Dragonflies emerge at about the same time, their nymphs having spent up to four years maturing under the water, feeding on other aquatic invertebrates. An unlucky dragonfly may find its already short life shortened further, if it gets plucked out of the air by a swallow or a bigger dragonfly.
The nature reserve was given to Cumbria Wildlife Trust in 2011 by the Environment Agency who developed the site as part of a flood alleviation scheme for Penrith.