The Maxey Cut is always a lovely place to walk but try to enjoy it late (9pm onwards) on a summer’s evening this year too – it can be a very special place.
Our walk starts on the old stone bridge on the Helpston – Maxey Road as it crosses the South Drain. Park near here, making sure you keep the road and gates clear, and walk directly east along the South Drain with Etton and Glinton churches in the distance in front of you.
The flooded pits to your left are home to little and great crested grebe, and there are also lapwing and oystercatcher often feeding at the water’s edge. Linnet, yellow wagtail and goldfinch can be seen in the newly planted areas too and this can be a good place to see a hunting barn owl.
The small ash trees on the south side of the footpath are alive with large flying beetles in June – look out for them hovering around the tops of the trees. These are summer chafers. The larvae of summer chafers feed underground on the roots of grasses and other plants. They can take two to three years before they are ready to pupate into the adult beetle. Pupation also takes place underground. When the time is right the adults emerge and males swarm round tall objects such as trees and even houses. After finding a female they mate, and the female then lays her eggs in the ground.
Keep on this path until you turn left and over the wooden bridge that crosses the
drain. Then turn back on yourself and head due west on the path parallel to the drain and the fence line. The field behind the fence to your right is now under the Trust’s management.
We will put sheep on here over the winter and manage it as a wildflower meadow, joining it up with our reserve at Vergette Wood Meadow to create a continuous stretch of meadow between the Etton and Helpston Roads.
Reed bunting and yellowhammer can be seen in the hedgerow in this area and it is also a good place to look out for little owl – also check for this owl in the large oaks that sit in between the pits on your left as you walk north up towards the Maxey Cut. A little owl made its home in the large haystack that stood to the west of Helpston Road this winter, it could often be seen sitting on the top at all times of day.
The footpath turns right and away from the Drain and as you walk north towards the Cut, look up to see if you can see sand and house martins, swallows and swifts hunting for insects.
Bats too can sometimes be seen in this area, particularly the large noctule bat which tends to hunt quite high in the air, often swooping steeply after its prey.
At the end of the footpath, you need to climb up on to the bank of the Cut, but go quietly, as this is perhaps the best place locally to see otters. Otters are very sensitive to disturbance, so to have any chance of seeing one you need to keep quiet and focus on the water. Look out for strong ripples on the water and then search for signs of the otter’s head poking above the surface. The female otter brings up her cubs entirely on her own and although they can raise young all year round, it is generally in the early summer that she brings them out from their nesting den to learn to fend for themselves.
It’s also worth searching for glowworms on the banks of the Cut – last year they appeared in good numbers on both sides of the water in early July. The trees along the north side of the Cut are another place to see Summer Chafers. Another characteristic sight are the clouds of tiny chironomid bugs which gather in their thousands in what look like clouds of smoke often above the water or streaming from the tops of the trees. These non-biting midges do not feed as adults and so when they swarm this way, they are looking for mates, not food!
As you walk back along the south side of the Cut you should see or hear common tern, little egret and grey heron hunting for food in the waters of the Cut.
Once back on the Helpston Road, turn left and head back to the starting point – barn owls often turn up here too. Hopefully you will have enjoyed a lovely walk with lots to see and hear on the way!