Water voles look cute and furry, but they are unfortunately notoriously hard to see - especially on an island the size of Wallasea. Surveys suggest there may be a population of at least 70 breeding females hiding in the creeks and ditches, all of which must be looked after as much as any rare bird.
Water voles (see photo) are a key protected species for The Wallasea Wild Coast Project. The new intertidal habitats we are creating will not be suitable for the small numbers of water voles that currently use the area. We have created some new habitat ahead of the loss (see photo) for them to migrate to.
A recent survey of the new water vole habitat has shown that it is developing well and should be ready to support the voles when required. It is a difficult balance to strike, create the habitat too late and it not be ready, create it too early and it will be colonised to capacity before we need it.
Wallasea Island Project Manager
Anyone with doubts about the island status of our wild coast should have been on the causeway in recent days! A combination of unusually high tides and high pressure weather meant some visitors departure was delayed a little - as the picture posted will show. Although the uninitiated may not realise where you leave 'the mainland' and actually join 'the island' there was little doubt as the water lapped up over the causeway road. Fortunately, it is not a daily occurence, and its not long before the tide turns and the road reappears. Given the lovely weather when this picture was taken, I'm sure noone was complaining too bitterly about a longer stay on Wallasea.
Others benefiting from the good weather were the bird counters along the North coast of the island last Sunday.The counts are carried out as part of the monitoring to demonstrate that the Defra site is being successful in its delivery of required compensation. 12 counts are carried out each autumn/winter - each requiring 4 surveyors and lasting 6 hours - one count per hour. The counts are arranged to provide a range of tide heights and times of the week.
Now that we have recovered from the Wild Coast weekend plans are afoot to develop more activities for 2010. A variety of events are under discussion, but there is one person in the wings who will surely make a huge impact - Wallasea Walter! Our pirate/smuggler character was very kindly created for us by Southend artist John Bulley to amuse the young and young at heart who come to Wallasea open days. A costume maker is now hard at work to find cloth and materials to bring him to life, so watch this space!
We have been managing Defra’s compensatory inter-tidal habitat scheme on Wallasea Island since March 2007. With the site being tidal habitats, physical habitat management opportunities are rare. The most enjoyable and challenging management task is vegetation management on the roosting islands. We do this over two days in Sept/Oct each year – pulling together a team of 6-8 staff/volunteers from our South Essex and Old Hall Marshes reserves. We tend to combine these visits with a tide-line litter pick.
The first visit this year was last Friday. We always pick a big spring tide, giving us easy boat access over the rough terrain. The drawback with a spring tide is that the tide comes and goes rather quickly, making it a challenge to get back in good time. The aim is to cut 60-70% of the vegetation to ground level with brushcutters, to provide a suitable wader roosting/wildfowl loafing area. The cut material is raked in to piles and left to compost. We managed to cut two of the larger islands in the eastern section – see photo. We plan to complete the job on 23 October, weather permitting.
Our litter pick was rather too productive – see photo – it never ceases to amaze me what you find and how much there is of it!
As an aside, we are keen to find a new name for the Defra Site. We see this excellent area as an integral part of the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project but it really does need a more sexy title – any suggestions more than gratefully received!
RSPB Wallasea Island Project Manager