RSPB nature reserve another step closer to becoming largest of its kind in the UK

David White

Wednesday 24 August 2016

· RSPB nature reserve in Cambridgeshire doubles in size following recent handover of land from gravel extraction site

· Once complete, the site will incorporate the UK's largest created reedbed- an extremely rare habitat which has almost been lost in Britain

· New habitat will create a home for bitterns, a rare species of bird, and other iconic wildlife such as otters and water voles to help populations thrive

· Pioneering partnership between construction industry, wildlife charity and planners shows it's possible to work together to benefit the economy, communities and the environment

A recent handover of land has set an RSPB reserve on the way to becoming the UK's largest created reedbed thanks to a ground breaking 30-year partnership project between the RSPB and construction materials company Hanson.

Hanson has handed over a further 96 hectares of land to the RSPB, transforming a sand and gravel extraction site to a wildlife rich wetland. This is part of an ambitious project to create a 700 hectare nature reserve at Ouse Fen in Cambridgeshire through restoration of quarried land to wildlife habitat. It is the largest planned nature conservation restoration scheme of its kind in Europe.

The new nature reserve is already providing a lifeline for bitterns, a rare species of bird that came close to extinction in 1997, with 10 "booming" males present at Ouse Fen in 2015, twice as many as expected. The new land will double the size of Ouse Fen, making it cover 218 hectares, which is larger than 200 football pitches, and will provide a much larger area for bitterns and other scarce species such as marsh harriers, otters and water voles to thrive.

Once complete, the site will incorporate eastern England's largest reedbed, recreating some of the extremely rare habitat which has almost been lost in Britain over the last 400 years. The site has the potential to be of international importance for reedbed wildlife, supporting some of the largest populations of bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers in the UK.

There are benefits for people too. Bringing nature back to an area presents an excellent opportunity for local communities to get closer to the natural environment and the wildlife on their doorstep. People can explore the nature reserve using the many available foot paths which can encourage green tourism and leisure pursuits and in turn can help the local economy.

Dave Hoccom, RSPB Area Manager, said:"It's fantastic to see the reserve double in size as a result of this handover. The Hanson RSPB Wetland Project demonstrates how giving nature a home can be achieved through innovative partnerships. The reserve has been so successful that last year, expectations for one of its star species, the bittern, were exceeded ahead of time, with double the numbers expected being recorded. This is a phenomenal achievement in only 15 years. This land transfer will help to ensure that scarce species like bitterns will continue to thrive at RSPB Ouse Fen into the future."

David Weeks, Hanson UK Communications manager, said: "The Needingworth project is a fantastic example of progress through partnership - not just with the RSPB but with many other national, regional and local organisations, most notably Cambridgeshire County Council. We recognise that quarrying, like farming, forestry and other rural activities, can have an impact on the countryside. But this project shows that we can make a very positive contribution to the UK's landscape, its wildlife, its habitats and its biodiversity."

Over the next 15 years, Hanson will continue to donate small parcels of land as sand and gravel extraction is completed, which the RSPB will manage and develop for nature conservation, until the 700 hectare nature reserve is complete.

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1. The project started in 2001 and will be complete in the early 2030s. Extraction of sand and gravel and creation of new habitat is happening 'cell by cell' as the quarrying operation proceeds, the minerals taken away and the landform of the remaining cell skilfully moulded through carefully designed earthworks, followed by planting and 'wetting up', to leave behind a mosaic of reedbed, swamp, scrub and grassland habitats.

2. Needingworth quarry produces around one million tonnes of sand and gravel a year for local construction markets. The minerals are used principally to make precast and ready-mixed concrete for the construction of houses, hospitals, schools, offices and industrial developments.

3. This landmark project provides a pioneering case study of how the construction industry and, nature conservation organisations can work in partnership with planners to benefit the economy, the environment and local communities. It is an outstanding example of minerals extraction leading to habitat creation on a landscape scale.

4. The bittern is a secretive member of the heron family. In 1997, there were only 11 "booming" male bitterns (bitterns in breeding condition) remaining in the UK. Due to the hard work of the RSPB and its partners, the population has increased to 156 "booming" males in 2015. There were 10 "booming" males at RSPB Ouse Fen in 2015, twice as many as expected. Bitterns are at risk in their current strongholds on the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts due to the effects of sea level rise and coastal erosion, making the creation of inland reedbeds such as Ouse Fen crucial to their future survival

5. Ouse Fen nature reserve already supports one of the UK's largest concentrations of reedbed species such as bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers. Otter and water vole are also present alongside self-sustaining fish populations, rich wetland plant communities and invertebrates.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Reserves