We are lucky to be located in a wonderful area for wildlife, with the sea on one side, a lake on another and a bird reserve behind us. The following text contains information on some of the creatures and plants we have seen since the museum opened in 2001.
Our grounds, including the nearby lake, are home to a large number, and variety of birds. The resident population of ducks (mainly Mallards), coots, moorhens and gulls are swelled during the spring and summer seasons by migrating birds, wagtails, martins, and lots of fluffy little chicks. We have a pair of Mute swans who stay all year. During 2004 we asked for, and got, a bird-hide from which the public can view the wildlife on the lake. Each year we get some rare birds turning up, and there is much interest from the local bird-watchers. We will try and keep you posted on these temporary visitors (the birds, not the watchers!).During early May 2005 we had a visiting Cormorant, who was seen taking some small fishes or shrimps from the lake before it was driven off by the swans. The swans are extremely territorial, driving off their own young over the winter. Any large visiting bird is quickly chased off the lake. The small ducks, gulls and other water birds are generally ignored unless they get too close to the nest. Early in March 2007 we saw another cormorant, but this time it was hunting through the reeds. On the 6th it hooked out a long silvery eel as long as itself and fought with it, dragging the eel across the lake until it finally lost it. The following day it was back diving into the root network for the reeds at the front of the lake.By May there were many ducklings, including those of an unusual black and white duck. Their nest was not far from the Swans' and here in the picture they are on an early outing in the reeds. Other ducklings from the group had already swum out onto the open lake ahead of the mother.By early summer of 2005 the Mute swan's 6 cygnets were growing fast. Here are 5 of them, in early June, on the nest preening themselves, the other was not too far away with the parents. The swans are only a few weeks old but they are already as big as the adult ducks on the lake. During 2006 the adults only produced 5 eggs, discarding one early on into the lake. Only three of the remaining eggs hatched, one more being abandoned when it did not produce a cygnet. The three healthy fluffy chicks grew fast, and left in late November as large grey adults. During March of 2007 the female layed a number of large eggs. we couldn't see how many there were initially because they were buried within the nest and guarded by both swans. However, at the beginning of May our visitors were rewarded with six small grey chicks. There were two eggs remaining in the nest but the parents have abandoned these so perhaps they are sterile. They join the throng of little ducklings that appeared at the end of April. During 2009 the resident swans (we now think we may have a new pair) produced six chicks and by the end of October they were all flying in formation over the lake. They all survived the winter, and the pair are back again in 2010 with their new chicks.
The area next to the building includes an extensive reed marsh, areas of scrub oak, and a large grassed area, including a small golf course. Areas of wild plant have been supplemented by small bedding areas near the Museum and a number of new trees. Each year the existing wild, and introduced, plants are supplemented by new planting in the bedding around the Museum. In front of the building is a raised planting bed. In the first years of our operation the planting changed each year, and it required regular watering. To cope with the very hot summers we are now having, and to reduce dependance on a valuable water resource, it was cleared early in 2007 and replaced with a drought-tolerant garden. On 25th April 2007 Green Gym came along to carry out the planting - the plants haven't required any artificial watering and are proving to be beneficial to birds and butterflies.
In front of the Museum entrance is a shallow artificial lake, typically 50cm deep, but with deeper areas upto 100cm. It was once a popular canoe-lake; and before that it was a low-lying marsh which acted as a defence for the nearby former fort. The fort covered the entire area between Fort Street and the Canoe Lake, and was built during 1632-1636 to defend against attack from the French. The water in the lake is brackish due to its proximity to the sea. The lake deepens each winter as a result of rainfall and storm-water run-off, but sea-water leaches into the lake from the muds below and from salt-spray blown over the nearby sea-wall. The lake is home to a number of crustaceans, and flatfish have been seen close to the edge. Reeds grow around the edges, both in the water and in the flower beds; these areas provide cover for the nesting ducks, coots and swans. Dragonflies and damselflies hover over the lake; and these, along with smaller insects like the Phantom Midge Chaoborus crystillinus, provide food for the martins and swallows that skim low over its surface. The soft rock beneath the lake mud is early Cretaceous in age, and probably contains dinosaur fossils; an interesting link with their descendents, the birds, who have made the lake their home.The dominant plant in the lake is the rare spiral tasselweed (Ruppia cirrhosa) which favours brackish coastal lagoons. It provides food and cover for the pond life, and some of the water birds feed on it. As the lake water evaporates during the summer the tasselweed becomes exposed and its extent can truly be seen. Small insects on the surface then become prey for the Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythomma viridulum).
Although the cladding of our building is constructed of metal, rather than traditional materials, this has not stopped the wildlife from setting up home in its structure. Starlings have roosted in small holes under the eaves, and we sometimes have a martin's nest built over one of our fire doors. On more than one occasion we have had to herd young starlings out of the Museum through the fire doors. During the summer evenings we often see wild rabbits and hares on the grass behind the building.During 2006, and again in 2007, we saw a pair of large snub-nosed golden brown water voles. They hunt in the barkchip, drag out plants, and seem to like running along the edge of the lake before diving in and swimming along the bank into the reeds. During 2008 one was suprised when the flags were put out early one morning. It played dead and then slowly rolled upright before sauntering away. We haven't seen them during 2009 or 2010 so hopefully they have moved to another part of the lake.
We are situated near to the sea-shore in Sandown Bay, with its wonderful sandy beaches facing out into the English Channel. As a result we see a lot of marine birds and other shoreline wildlife. Cuttlefish bones regularly wash ashore, as do the remains of skate, dogfish and jellyfish. Very rarely the dead husks of small sea-horses and brittle-stars have been found. The beach teams with muscles, crabs and small hopping arthropods.During February 2007 we saw the first signs of the flotsam from the MSC Napoli which began washing up onto the beach. The ship had beached in Lyme Bay many miles to the west. Its cargo of containers had spilled, and in some cases broken open; it would only be a matter of time before the debris reached us. Oily rags, aerosols, rubber gaskets and pallets were strewn along the beach. The beach is now clear, but sometimes we find the odd cuttlefish or ray washing up.
Throughout the year our many human visitors donate to the Gift to Nature fund. Gift to Nature was managed by the Island 2000 Trust who spend the money on habitat improvement and awareness projects. During 2005 we were able to hand over £150 towards Island conservation projects. To date these have included trails and hides in Parkhurst Forest and a wetland walk in the Sandown area. By 2006 we had collected a total of £330.81 to support further Island environmental projects. This figure had risen to £531.68 in 2008.
Dinosaur Isle is commited to ensuring a sustainable and environmentally sensitive impact with regard to the tourism industry on the Isle of Wight. Green Island is a new scheme that audits and certifies Island businesses. In 2003 Dinosaur Isle was awarded a Bronze, progressing to Silver in 2004 and Gold in 2005. Dinosaur Isle has recently reaffirmed its position by winning Gold again in 2006 and 2007. The ten criteria for assessment include energy efficiency, water management, waste, wildlife, transport and purchasing. Dinosaur Isle has made a significant improvement to the external areas around its building with new planting, seating and a bird hide. In addition we now monitor and record the water-level of our nearby lake. Click on the logo for more information about the Green Island scheme.
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