This month marks five years since RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands opened its doors, but parts of the land managed by the wildlife conservation charity have now entered their fourth decade as a nature reserve and have just undergone some home improvements.
The origins of the reserve date back to 1986 when the RSPB bought the flooded crop fields of Inner Marsh Farm in Burton. Five years of planning and hard work saw three freshwater lagoons created and then a hide was built in 1992, to bring the public closer to the great variety of birds that call the Dee estuary home. However, after years of natural change, the wetland had silted up in places and now major improvement work has provided a much needed rejuvenation of the old pools.
Colin Wells, Site Manager at RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserve said: "I'd not long moved to this reserve when the RSPB bought Inner Marsh Farm. I was responsible for creating the wetland which is now home to internationally important numbers of ducks, geese and wading birds, along with a whole host of other wonderful wildlife."
In recent years however, despite regular ongoing management through mowing and sheep grazing, time had taken its toll and the pools were silting up, with rushes and reeds starting to dominate the water. This meant they were less suitable for the birds which were becoming further away from the hide, making it more difficult for visitors to view them. The RSPB decided more drastic work was needed, so set about a project to dredge the pools and remove the layers of silt and vegetation that had established over the years.
Colin added:"Before the diggers had even finished the work, there were various wading birds taking advantage of the newly exposed mud to find food. This bodes well for the weeks ahead as the reserve is a vital rest stop for wading birds on autumn migration from other parts of Europe."
This desilting work is the first part of a series of improvements to the Inner Marsh Farm area of the RSPB reserve; the site team are hoping to change from sheep grazing to cattle later this year, with a view to tackling the tough rushes and restoring the area to a rich wet grassland. This along with the installation of an electric predator exclusion fence will make it ideal for nesting wading birds.
In addition, the RSPB are currently embarking on a project to fund the replacement of the aging hide, and upgrade the accessibility of the path, bringing the whole site up to the high standard of Burton Mere Wetlands.
For more information on the important work carried out at the reserve as well as upcoming events, visit www.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary
1. Burton Mere Wetlandsis the gateway to the RSPB's Dee Estuary nature reserve. From the comfort of the reception building, visitors can see nesting avocets and lapwings in the summer and huge flocks of ducks, geese and swans in winter. Water voles and badgers are resident, whilst the summer months are alive with flickering colours from the countless dragonflies and butterflies.
Four miles up the road at Parkgate, the vast saltmarsh provides internationally important habitat for thousands of wading birds and wildfowl, but one of the biggest draws are the birds of prey and owls; hen harriers, Peregrine falcons and short-eared owls are amongst the most captivating winter visitors. During exceptionally high spring tides, the saltmarsh becomes flooded and the resident harvest mice, field voles and the like can be seen fleeing the rising water.
Point of Ayrlies at the tip of the Welsh side of the estuary, where thousands of wading birds gather to roost at high tide, and a huge variety of migrant birds stop off to feed and nest on the saltmarsh. Natterjack toads breed in the sand dunes and the critically endangered Sandhill Rustic Moth thrives here.
A programme of events runs at all three sites throughout the year, please see: www.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary
Location and opening times:
RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, Puddington Lane, Burton, Cheshire, CH64 5SF. The reserve is open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9 am to 5 pm from November to March, and 9am to dusk from April to October. The reception building is open from 9.30 am to 5 pm from February to October, and 9.30 am to 4.30 pm from October to January.
2.The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654