Major Kent landscape restoration project hailed as a great success for local wildlife and people

Ann Favell

Tuesday 26 April 2022

A massive year-long project in Kent which saw the large-scale restoration and creation of 228ha of wetlands, restoration of four woodland sites totalling 1400ha, and intensive management of one grassland site, has just completed.

Seasalter Levels, a wetland to the west of Whitstable, Blean Woods - four pockets of woodland across Kent including RSPB Blean Woods nature reserve near Canterbury, and Wraik Hill to the south-west of Whitstable, now have a more certain future, thanks to the work of the project.

Funds totalling £1.9 million from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, enabled the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust to work in partnership with Canterbury City Council to deliver this incredible work.

Seasalter Levels

The Seasalter Levels site had been neglected for decades prior to a partnership coming together in 2007 to help manage the site and develop it into a nature reserve. Despite this work, many parts of the site remained in poor condition and this project focused on those areas by installing new features to retain water and opportunities for animals to graze as part of its ongoing management, including:

  • Installation of dams, embankments, dykes and pipework
  • Restoration of 2.1km of ditches
  • Creation of 119,246sqm shallow water channels across the site
  • Installation of fences, gates, corrals and a bridge to keep cattle in
  • Clearing of invasive plant species from waterways

As a result of this work, the site will be more resilient to climate change by enabling water to be retained on the grazing marsh during the spring and summer months when birds such as lapwing and redshank are raising families. It will also provide a ‘stepping-stone site’ for species that are predicted to move into new geographical areas to live due to the changing climate.

Seasalter Levels which is recognised as a Special Protection Area (SPA), Ramsar site, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Local Nature Reserve (LNR), will now truly thrive as a sanctuary for breeding and wintering wildfowl and waders, water voles, rare invertebrates and plants.

It is hoped the site will be opened up for guided walks in the future.

Blean Woods  

Blean Woods saw the restoration and ‘re-wetting’ of over 1400ha of woodland which had suffered over the years through a combination of man-made drainage and the warming climate.

In total 160 natural dams, called ‘leaky dams’ as they retain water but also allow water to gradually seep through, were installed at four woodland sites, including RSPB Blean Woods nature reserve, in East Kent.

The dams, many of which were installed by volunteers from the local community, will help the woodlands to retain water and not dry out; ensuring the longevity of the sites, providing water in the spring and summer months for wildlife and will help to reduce nearby flood risks. Dams have also been used to reconnect natural meanders (the winding bend or curve of a river) that were cut off from a local river during historical drainage works.

Volunteers were key to helping the project thrive with over 160 people getting involved in dam building and many different groups from the community coming along to lend a helping hand, including local schools, Scout groups, university groups and even a stag do.

Themed events as part of the project including woodland storytelling, beginners wildlife identification workshops, folklore and music events, forest bathing and woodland yoga enticed 250 people to attend these on-site fun and fascinating events.

Wraik Hill

A natural steppingstone between Blean and Seasalter Levels, Wraik Hill saw the removal of 10,000 metres of invasive scrub, resulting in a flower rich grassland and habitat corridor for wildlife. Pond restoration including the removal of overgrown vegetation and the unblocking of a vital drainage channel, resulted in a great improvement to the pond, attracting species such as dragonfly and newt.

Four information boards were produced and added along 950 metres of waymarked trails on the site. Over 620 metres of new fencing was installed, and 200 metres of fencing repaired or replaced to enable Konik ponies to graze. Konik’s are ideal for conservation grazing as they encourage rich biodiversity through closely grazing some grassland areas and leaving other areas of long vegetation untouched.

In addition, three bird monitoring surveys were carried out to understand and record the bird species found on site, establishing a baseline number for future bird surveys to be compared to. These surveys recorded five red listed species – including the nightingale, with 35 bird species being recorded.

Visitor access to Wraik Hill was also improved including introducing a welcoming footpath at the entrance for site visitors and other improvements were made with the clearance of fly-tipping and the vehicle barrier at the site was repaired.

Alan Johnson, RSPB Area Manager for Kent said: “Biodiversity in Kent is under threat; habitats are fragmented, often in poor condition and subject to pressure from recreation, development and agricultural activities. These two projects will not only massively benefit key wildlife species in Kent, but also help combat the effects of climate change in this county, which suffers from extended drought periods, the lowest rainfall in the UK and high temperatures throughout the summer. Thank you to the Green Recovery Challenge Fund for making these projects possible and our partners Kent Wildlife Trust and Canterbury City Council who were vital in making this happen. “

Will Douglas, Kent Wildlife Trust Area Warden for the Blean, said: “The Rewetting the Blean project has done wonders to address the ongoing effect of the biodiversity and climate crises on East Kent. Beyond alleviating flood risk, the habitat restoration and 'wilding' of the waterways in the woodland will hugely benefit the resilience of the Blean landscape. The work done on Kent Wildlife Trust reserves has been transformative, and we can't wait to watch them develop over the coming years. Many thanks to project partners RSPB and Canterbury City Council for making Rewetting the Blean possible in an inspiring and collaborative atmosphere. And thank you to the Green Recovery Challenge Fund for financing these projects”.

Cllr Ashley Clark, Canterbury City Council's Lead Councillor for Open Spaces, said: "There is far more to diversity and combating climate change than just planting trees and in some cases that can be counter-productive.

"Green spaces such as these are vital bastions of diversity but that does not happen on its own. They have to be worked on and enhanced to maintain a balance of vital key habitats.

"This is all the more important with ongoing development and population pressure in Kent the effects of which go far beyond the actual margin of the developments themselves. The work undertaken in these areas is commendable and has our full support."

 

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact  EngMediaEnquiries@rspb.org.uk

Access to Seasalter Levels reserve

At the present time access to the site is limited but visitors will be able to view the work by following the England Coast Path that runs to the north of Seasalter where interpretation boards will be installed along the path that will tell the story of Seasalter and explain its significance for wildlife. It is hoped the site will be opened up for guided walks in the future.

RSPB Blean Woods

More information on RSPB Blean Woods nature reserve can be found at https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/blean-woods/

 

Last Updated: Tuesday 26 April 2022

Tagged with: Topic: Conservation Topic: Reserves Topic: Wetland Topic: Woodland Topic: Climate change Topic: Conservation Topic: Giving Nature a Home Topic: Green issues Topic: Reserves Topic: Site conservation Topic: Species conservation Topic: Blean Woods Topic: Quiet engagement Topic: Ramsar site Topic: SPA Topic: SSSI