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18 May 2007
Image: Mike Weedon
The Ouse Washes is one of Britain's largest areas of lowland wet grassland. It supports thousands of wintering waterfowl and scarce breeding birds, as well as a rich variety of invertebrates and aquatic flora.
The RSPB, along with the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, owns over 80% of the washes and is managing the site to benefit all its wildlife.
We are maintaining the wet grassland for birds all year round. In winter this habitat provides feeding and roosting habitat for important numbers of Bewick's swans, whooper swans, wigeons, gadwalls, pintails and other wildfowl. In summer it supports breeding black-tailed godwits, plus garganeys, spotted crakes, snipe, lapwings and redshanks.
Most of the reserve's grasslands have never been ploughed, so we are retaining traditional cattle grazing and hay mowing – with some sheep and horse grazing – as the best form of conservation management. We also protect use regular patrols and predator control to protect breeding birds, and are working to create more wet grassland adjacent to the site.
We are managing all other habitats on the reserve for their biodiversity. This includes maintaining the ditches and open watercourses for their plant life, and managing the osier beds, mature willows and hawthorn hedgerows for their invertebrate communities. We are also maintaining our populations of farmland birds, and providing nest boxes for tree sparrows.
We regularly monitor wintering waterfowl and breeding birds, as well as vegetation structure, water quality, aquatic plants, invertebrates and other key biodiversity components. We are also encouraging research projects on site.
The reserve provides an excellent year-round wildfowl spectacle. We have visitor facilities to accommodate 10,000 visitors a year, and are building a positive profile with key audiences and local communities, while delivering our key conservation messages.
Meanwhile we are working with the Environment Agency and other statutory bodies to improve water management and quality. This helps protect the site from external threats – including uncontrolled flooding, which disrupts summer breeding birds, and phosphate pollution, which damages aquatic plant life.