The popular RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserve is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019. The well-known nature conservation charity first purchased an area of saltmarsh and mudflats the size of 2000 football pitches at Parkgate in 1979.
Doing so created a sanctuary area for the tens of thousands of water birds that flock to the estuary from Arctic regions every year, to spend the cold winter months in the UK. Their numbers had been falling during the preceding years and were at further risk from proposed development and disturbance.
Graham Jones, RSPB Dee Estuary site manager said: “I started coming to Parkgate as a teenager in the 1980s to watch the birds that thrive on the marsh and mud. This place played a major part in growing my knowledge and passion for birds and wildlife and helping me end up in the fortunate position I am today.
“Shortly before the RSPB established the reserve, by purchasing the land from British Steel, there were proposals to build a barrage across the Dee, or create a recreational lake within the marsh at Parkgate. Either of those would have caused the bird numbers to plummet further.”
Since securing the initial part of the reserve on the estuary, originally known as Gayton Sands, the RSPB land holdings have expanded significantly, particularly around the village of Burton, four miles from Parkgate.
Graham added: “The brilliant visitor facilities we opened at Burton Mere Wetlands in 2011 have been a major step in bringing the Dee Estuary’s rich wildlife closer for the public to enjoy easily. Since opening, we’ve welcomed nearly a quarter of a million visits, with excellent wildlife spectacles to be enjoyed every day that continually change through the seasons.
“As well as protecting these valuable spaces for birds to spend the winter, we’ve also undertaken extensive land management to support birds to nest, helping species like exotic avocets establish breeding, the largest little egret colony in the country and for the first time in 2018, a successful pair of marsh harriers raised young. The reserve also supports a whole range of other special wildlife; from the large like badgers and otters, to the small such as insects, orchids and lizards.”
To mark this significant milestone, the RSPB will be running some special events in 2019 to celebrate 40 years of giving nature a home on the estuary. They hope to welcome back those already visiting the site as well as introduce more local people to the extent of this important reserve. The site now encompasses half of the Dee Estuary, including most of the Welsh shore, forming one of the largest protected wetlands in the country.
The reserve team are keen to receive any photos, memories or tales of visitors’ experiences enjoying the Dee Estuary reserve over the past 40 years – or even before, given its rich history. These can be sent by email to email@example.com or posted to the reserve office at RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserve, Burton Mere Wetlands, Puddington Lane, Burton, Cheshire, CH64 5SF.
For further information on the special events and wildlife at RSPB Dee Estuary, visit rspb.org.uk/burtonmerewetlands.