Wednesday, 26 August 2009

RSPB South Essex Marshes - Reserves update

August 2009
On the move! That could be the motto, which describes the state of affairs in South Essex the best. On all our reserves, major landscaping work have and still is taking place in order to turn the plans for the South Essex project into reality.

Reserves Management
The first phase of the habitat creation works on RSPB West Canvey Marshes was completed at the end of March 2009. This work included the excavation of scrapes, these shallow muddy areas will hold water and will provide ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildfowl and wading birds. The soils generated from the scrape creation were then used to build two reservoir dams either end of the fleet area.

After the diggers had finished their work, on Vange Marsh in April, our islands in the saline lagoon shone in new splendour with a fresh cockleshell topping and re-shaped muddy edges for a shallower bank profile providing a greater area of draw-down. This has provided improved feeding conditions for waders on the lagoon. This work caught the interest of various regional newspapers and even brought our warden a live radio interview with BBC Essex! A new interpretation board has been installed on Vange Marsh informing visitors of the importance of the site and its habitats, whilst the map provides details of the trails and viewpoints.

Bowers Marsh, a 270 hectare area of marshland, has been leased from Veolia Environmental Services. This land stretches between Pitsea and Benfleet and connects the easterly Vange Marsh area behind Wat Tyler Country Park with our West Canvey Marshes nature reserve. The Bowers Marsh public consultation is underway; this will provide us with opinions and ideas for the RSPB’s proposal for the area of marshland.

The volunteer work parties have continued to be a success. The volunteers have carried out regular reserves maintenance such as the brush cutting of the footpaths, litter picking and fencing repairs. Some of the volunteers have also been involved in species monitoring, providing valuable data about the avian and non-avian species across the reserves.

Species recordsOne of the main highlights were the first fledged lapwing young for the South Essex Marshes and with conditions improving across the marshes these should be the first of many. There have been other good bird highlights already this year. Four adult whooper swans were present on Bowers Marsh from the 27th February to the 29th March. Up to three marsh harriers were regularly recorded over Bowers Marsh during winter into spring.

There were a good number of white-winged gulls in the area until early spring, a glaucous gull was seen amongst the large gull flock on Vange Marsh on the 1st of March. Spring passage got under way in early April with the arrival of sedge and reed warblers across the reserve. The next two months saw a period of brief visits from a variety of interesting species. A black redstart was a welcome visitor to Vange Marsh on the 2nd of April. Common, green and wood sandpipers were all recorded in May. A marsh sandpiper dropped into the Vange Marsh freshwater lagoon on the 11th of May. Unfortunately, this rare wader was only present on the marsh for about 30 minutes before black-headed gulls chased it off. It was followed later the same week by a Temminck’s stint that paid a short visit on the 14th of the month. On 24th of June, a spoonbill was seen feeding in the brackish lagoon and one day later, a ruff with most of a gingery ruff was spotted. Other waders on the reserve have included black-tailed godwit, whimbrel, curlew, ringed plover, dunlin, greenshank, redshank and spotted redshank.

Non-avian highlights have included water voles, which have been a common sight when strolling along the ditches. Some of these mammals have been fairly showy and have been seen feeding and swimming across the ditches on Vange Marsh. Adders, slow worm and common lizard have all been recorded basking in the early morning sun across the South Essex Marshes. Butterflies monitoring has continued on the reserve and marbled whites looked to have had a good year. Small tortoiseshell were recorded more regularly than in recent years, but this butterfly continues to struggle on the reserve, mirroring the national trend. A butterfly ‘good news story’ is that wall brown has at least three populations across the reserve. This butterfly has become a rare sight across south Essex so it is a locally important species of Lepidoptera.