Nigg Bay, Moray Firth - New wildlife habitats
Steph Elliott is the Site Manager for the Central Highland group of nature reserves in the Highlands of Scotland, where she has been working for the last six years.
Steph Elliot and the assistant warden manage seven nature reserves, looking after a broad range of habitats and wildlife.
Several of the reserves are on the Moray Firth and are internationally important for wintering waterbirds. These birds come here for their winter ‘holidays’ from their breeding grounds in the frozen North – Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia.
Mud, glorious mud
It’s the mud that attracts them – teeming full of lugworms, marine snails and eelgrass – I like to think of it as a ‘big bird restaurant’. As the tide comes in and covers the mud, these birds need somewhere safe to roost and the saltmarshes around the Moray Firth are ideal.
But climate change threatens these valuable areas. As sea levels rise, the areas of mudflat for feeding and saltmarsh for roosting will decline. Increased storminess will further erode these fragile habitats. This is on top of the areas which have already been reclaimed to gain extra land.
This is why we’ve already taken steps to provide new coastal habitat for wintering birds in the Moray Firth, to make up for past and future losses.
In 2003, we breached part of a sea wall on our nature reserve at Nigg Bay, allowing the sea water to flood the field behind.
Five years on it is really gratifying to see how nature has responded. As well as 11 species of saltmarsh plants, we now have 11 species of wader and 10 species of wildfowl regularly using the newly created habitat for feeding and roosting. Sometimes we see up to 2,000 birds, just as we had hoped.
With sea levels predicted to rise by 23cm by 2050 in this part of Scotland, it is good to know that we can do something to replace lost habitat and that the birds and other wildlife will follow!