A Tribute to Marney Hall

It is with sadness that the Friends learned of the death in November of Marney Hall. Marney served as a member of the Friends of Holt Island Nature Reserve committee for six years, and her expertise and support will be greatly missed.  She carried out botanical surveys of Holt Island, and also the Thicket, which greatly informed our understanding of the flora and ecology of these habitats. Whilst on the committee Marney organised a very popular and well attended guided walk around the Island and each year she would host the Anglia in Bloom judges when they came to visit the Island as part of Anglia in Bloom.

As well as Holt Island, Marney's expertise had a real impact on the local environment. As an ecologist with the Nature Conservancy Council she  became an expert in butterflies, particularly those species that were struggling, while working at the Monks Wood ecological research centre.  Her most noted achievement was on the re-introduction of the swallowtail butterfly to Wicken Fen.

Marney was also involved with St Ives in Bloom, serving on their committee for over ten years (serving as Chair for four years).  She set up a specialist nursery growing and selling native wild plants, then developed her own garden design consultancy, with a reputation for designing gardens with a natural feel.

Marney could number a string of gold awards, including Chelsea, for the gardens she designed, both at home and internationally amongst her successes.  Her gold medal at Chelsea was awarded for a garden which promoted biodiversity, providing habitat for visiting birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Marney was devoted to the countryside, British wildlife, and the local environment and her passion, expertise and enthusiasm will be greatly missed. 


The Owl Box has sadly failed to attract an owl. But it is certainly popular with hornets! This was filmed on a sunny day in September (WATCH VIDEO). Thank goodness they are up high! But true to say although they look fierce you are more likely to be stung by a wasp than a hornet. They are valuable pollinator and keep down pests and so in fact are a gardener’s best friend.


During the lockdown HDC Ranger Paul Claydon has been keeping up maintenance on the Island. The volunteers were not allowed to work between March and July, but they are now back in action. In July, as part of the installation of non-slip panels on boards that have lost their tar chippings, it was found that the main beams supporting the wooden bridge just inside the Island had rotted. To read more about the work that has been carried out on the island CLICK HERE.


1st Sepember 2020 - Work continues on the bridge and should be completed shortly. To read about the latest work CLICK HERE

10th September 2020 - Bridge re-construction is now complete. We hope to open the Nature Reserve to the public towards the end of the month. To read all about the completion CLICK HERE


Once the Island is safely opened again you are very welcome to book visits, and we will continue to open and close the Island for you. However, we will not be opening the Holt (for the reasons explained above) and will not be able to offer you volunteers to help. There are a lot of activity worksheets and our Education Pack available on the website to download, for use on the Island.


We’ve been bringing you regular updates from our swans' nest, and we're delighted to report that eight cygnets hatched on the 7th May!

Nigel Sprowell reports: “I have been monitoring our swans' nest since the end of March. It does take time to lay a clutch of eight very large eggs and she does have to leave the nest from time to time and when she does so, the eggs are covered in nesting material, making it difficult to be sure how many there are.

Once all the eggs have been laid, she sits tight to brood them as ideally they all need to hatch at the same time. This, on average, can take up to 34 days. During that time she can appear very lethargic and lonely, as her mate tends to stay away, which can give the impression she has been deserted. He does take turns to brood from time to time allowing her a break but in the main he keeps his distance. Recently this led to a member of the public expressing concern for the health our swan. However, regular monitoring and use of 24 hour surveillance cameras allayed any fears. In fact the male has been seen patrolling the end of the Waits by the main river. It is wonderful that people take so much interest in what is happening on our Island.

I am delighted to say that all 8 eggs hatched on 7th May, in line with the average incubation time. Despite being drenched the very next day, all the cygnets look very well and are now giving lots of enjoyment to the public as the proud mum, and occasionally dad, parade them up and down the river, retiring periodically to the nest for a rest and more photos!

I’m sure we all wish them well”

Please note that the grassy path is now open again.  Thank you all for letting our swan family "nest in peace"!

Did you know? It takes 2-3 weeks to build a mute swan nest, which is a huge mound of material, normally dried grasses and assorted vegetation, sticks and rushes, constructed at the water's edge. The nest is built by the female, while the male supplies the materials.  It takes around six weeks’ incubation (sitting on the eggs) before the cygnets (young swans) hatch, and the cygnets stay with their parents for 4 - 5 months.

swan on the nest with chicks   swan and cygnets
 © Nigel Sprowell    © Les Goodey

cygnets on the nest

© Nigel Sprowell