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The trail of glowing wee

16 November 2012

Martin Holm
Visiting Services Manager

If you've seen the BBC's Miracles of Nature with Richard Hammond and were blown away by the fact that elephants can communicate through solid rock and seals are using their whiskers to determine the size and shape of objects, then prepare to be even more amazed at RSPB Rainham Marshes.

Sitting on London’s eastern boundary alongside the river Thames, RSPB Rainham Marshes boasts a supreme selection of wildlife; each with their own incredible super sense.

Kestrels are doubly blessed with two superpowers. They can hover like helicopters and they have special vision to track down prey. Their eyes have adapted to detect ultra-violet light, which is bad news for voles and mice. These rodents leave trails of urine along the paths they use and their urine emits ultra-violet light; providing hungry kestrels with a glowing path straight to a tasty snack.

While you may not be able to see the glowing wee of the rodents, you can watch the kestrels hover and then dive on prey from the comfort of our visitor centre. It’s a relatively common sight from the panoramic windows of the centre, where you can enjoy a cuppa and sample homemade cakes.

Another one of Rainham’s resident creatures would have no trouble sucking the jam from the centre of a doughnut, thanks to its 10 centimetre long tongue; that’s a third of the length of its owner’s body!

X-rays show the tongue starting at the back of the throat, then going down the throat, before coming out of the back of the neck and around the skull. You’d then see it continuing out a small hole between the eyes, going through one of the nostrils before finally coming out the mouth. Armed with barbs, it is made solely for the purpose of licking-up ants and their larvae; this monster creature is a green woodpecker.

There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to test their own super senses too.

Can you navigate round the two-and-a-half miles of pathways? Test your hearing by listening for watervoles munching on reeds. Younger visitors can pit their physical abilities against gravity in our adventure areas.

As an extra treat for visitors this winter, we are opening up small areas of our reedbeds along the northern boardwalk, giving greater opportunities to watch the exciting wildlife they harbour. Now is definitely the time to make your way to RSPB Rainham Marshes and exercise your own super senses.


  1. RSPB Rainham Marshes Environment and Education Centre, café and nature reserve is open seven days a week. For more information, please call 01708 899 840 or visit
  2. The kestrel is found in a wide variety of habitats, from moor and heath, to farmland and urban areas. The only places they do not favour are dense forests, vast treeless wetlands and mountains. They are a familiar sight, hovering beside a motorway, or other main road. They can often be seen perched on a high tree branch, or on a telephone post or wire, on the look out for prey. Numbers of kestrels declined in the 1970s, probably as a result of changes in farming and so it is included on the Amber List.
  3. The green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breed in Britain. They can be seen in England, Wales and Scotland, though they're absent from the far north and west and Ireland. Green woodpeckers spend most of their time feeding on the ground. Look out for them on garden lawns or in parks - short grass provides good feeding opportunities for them. Like other woodpeckers, these birds breed in holes they peck in dead wood.
  4. The development of RSPB Rainham Marshes nature reserve would not be possible without the generous support of RSPB members, supporters and the following organisations: Veolia Havering Riverside Trust, Veolia Mardyke Trust, Veolia ES UK (plc), Biffaward, City Bridge Trust, Homes and Communities Agency's Parklands Funding administered by Essex County Council, the EU’s Interreg IVA Two Seas Cross-Border Cooperation Programme, Defra's Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the Rose Foundation, Defra's Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, Essex County Council, East of England Development Agency, Energy Savings Trust, Environment Agency, Fulham Heating, Heritage Lottery Fund, HSBC, Landfill Communities Fund of Waste Recycling Group Ltd (WRG) administered by the Environmental Body WREN, London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, Natural England, Rail Link Countryside Initiative, SITA Trust, South Essex Green Grid/Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership, Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, Union Railways and Thurrock Council.

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