What you didn't know about our nature reserves
The RSPB now has 200 nature reserves, many of them well-known, but there are lots of weird and wonderful facts about the sites that you won't know!
A potted history
The RSPB’s network of reserves first grew out of its system of 'watchers' - farmers, fishermen, gamekeepers and others, paid to keep an eye on rare breeding birds. The first was appointed in 1901 to guard the pintails at Loch Leven in Kinross.
It was not until 1930, when the RSPB was already 40 years old, that it acquired its first reserve on Romney Marsh. This was sold in 1950 after the surrounding land was drained and the birds deserted it. Today the Society’s oldest remaining reserve is at Dungeness, announced to the public in 1932.
The number of reserves grew slowly at first but by 1960 the RSPB had acquired some of its most celebrated sites, including Minsmere in Suffolk and Havergate Island, famous as the place where avocets first returned to the UK. The avocet has since become the RSPB’s logo and icon of bird conservation.
'In the past 2-3 years, 16 species that are new to Britain have been discovered on RSPB reserves'
During the 1960s, the Society began to buy sites where species were under immediate threat and by 1970 it owned, leased or managed 31 reserves.
Growth has continued and with today’s announcement of the 200th reserve, the Society has land in every part of the UK, from Fetlar in the Shetlands to Marazion in Cornwall and from Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh to Berney Marshes in the far east of Norfolk.
Where it’s at
As of March 31, 2006, the RSPB owned leased or managed land totalling 131,127 hectares, an area larger than Greater Manchester.
Biggest: Abernethy - 13,714 ha
Smallest (open to visitors): Fairy Glen - 2 ha
Highest point on reserve: Ben Macdui - 1,309 metres - second highest point in the UK.
Lowest point on reserve: The pilot project fields at the Ouse Washes are up to 1.3m below Ordnance Datum (sea level).
Land designated as Sites or Areas of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI/ASSIs) occurs on 150 reserves. In all, almost 4 per cent of the UK’s SSSI land falls within RSPB reserves.
RSPB reserves contain 12 per cent of the UK’s reedbeds, 13 per cent of its shingle, 20 per cent of its native pinewoods, and 25 per cent of its saline lagoons.
RSPB reserves welcome 1.5 million visitors a year.
The most visited reserve is Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk, with 92,000 visitors a year. The least visited is Ramna Stacks and Gruney in Yell sound, Shetland. This is a series of steep, rocky seabird islands, totalling 11 hectares.
Each year, 61,000 children take part in field teaching days on RSPB reserves.
There are 3,186 volunteers working on RSPB reserves. Together they contribute 237,289 hours a year, the equivalent of 132 extra fulltime staff. The oldest volunteer is 97; the youngest is 10.
People employed on reserves: 547.
In the last financial year, the cost of keeping the reserve network running was £6.5 million. This is estimated to support 203 Full Time Equivalent jobs and £3.8 million of wages in local economies around the UK.
The 1.5 million visitors to RSPB reserves in 2005/06 spent an estimated £12.64 each, supporting an estimated 476 FTE jobs.
RSPB reserves support at least 30 per cent of the UK breeding populations of 13 species of Birds of Conservation Concern, including bittern (39%), black-tailed godwit (93%), Slavonian grebe (46%), red-necked phalarope (78%) and roseate tern (80%).
18 December 2006
Fifty-four species of mammal, including 14 of the 17 bat species found in the UK; all six of Britain’s native amphibians and all six of its native reptiles; 37 of the 39 species of dragonfly native to Britain and Ireland; 53 of the 55 species of British butterflies; more than 700 of the UK’s 726 large moths.
Minsmere in Suffolk is home to more than 1,000 species of moth (small and large).
More than half the reserves have at least one nationally rare or scarce plant species. Abernethy in Scotland has the most with 48.
Well over 2,000 species of fungi have been found on RSPB reserves, with more than 1,000 recorded at one reserve alone, Tudeley Woods in Kent.
In the past 2-3 years, 16 species that are new to Britain have been discovered on RSPB reserves, 12 of them in 2004. They included a spider, a moth, two wasps and 12 flies. One of the flies was entirely new to science.
There are 5,000 cattle on RSPB reserves - most of them on the Nene and Ouse Washes.
But did you know…?
From the Sandwell Valley reserve, you can hear the West Bromwich Albion fans cheering when they score a goal? The Hawthorns (the Baggies ground) is only a couple of miles away.
Hodbarrow Lagoon is the largest stretch of coastal open water in north-west England.
At 5,000 hectares, the Geltsdale reserve in the North Pennines, is one of largest organically-farmed areas in England.
Bempton Cliffs reserve in Yorkshire is the largest seabird colony in England with up to 200,000 birds.
Abernethy Forest is the largest remaining stand of Caledonian pine forest in Scotland (c15% of the total).
Fairclough's Pool on the Marshside reserve on Merseyside may have been the site where the first potatoes to be imported into Britain were unloaded.
The Lodge reserve in Bedfordshire is the site of two Iron Age hill forts.
The trees planted on the colliery spoil heaps at Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire were the first attempt at the restoration of slag heaps in Britain.
The Old Man of Hoy and the summit of Cairn Gorm are both on RSPB reserves.
The peat beds, which are exposed at low tide on the beach at Titchwell, Norfolk, have been dated to about 8000 BC and were once part of large forest that would have been present on a land bridge stretching across to continental Europe.
Minsmere in Suffolk is perhaps the RSPB’s best-known reserve, but it only exists because of the Second World War. The land was flooded to make it impossible for the invading Germans to land tanks there.