Winter 2000

Marshside Nature Reserve The first five years.

Article by Tony Baker

It's now five years since the RSPB began managing two large coastal grazing marshes inland of the coast road at Marshside. The marshes have always been a popular place with keen birders but the RSPB presence and new facilities are bringing the reserve to the attention of ever increasing numbers of people who discover Marshside to be a birdwatchers paradise.


The first 5 years - some achievements so far

The aim of RSPB management has been to maintain and improve the conditions for the internationally important numbers of wintering waterfowl and the regionally important numbers of breeding waterfowl. This has been achieved by three main methods - managing the water, managing the grazing and reducing disturbance.

Sluices have been installed to help keep the marsh wet during the birds' breeding season. At other times of the year the water can freely drain away. The higher water level also makes the ground damper and easier for wading birds to find food. Ditches and pools have been restored or created. These provide more 'wet edges' for waders and wildfowl and their young and bring life-giving water to drier areas of the marsh.

The number of cows that graze the marsh has been reduced. This produces more variety in the vegetation which in turn creates more nest sites for breeding birds like the snipe, redshank and lapwing. The grass is still kept short in places to attract pink-footed geese and wigeon in winter.

Marshside's birds are sensitive to disturbance. To help them feel secure we have built two hides and a viewing screen, created footpaths (this gives the birds more confidence as they quickly learn that people stay on a set path) and constructed earth banks alongside some paths to screen the people from the birds.

Shrubs have also been planted to break up the outline of people on the paths and new stock-fencing helps to prevent stray dogs getting onto the marsh.

Not just birds - biodiversity!

There is more to Marshside than just birds. The flora is also of great interest. In May and June the reserve is carpeted with thousands of flowers of the early marsh orchid. We also hope to reintroduce the natterjack toad to the reserve in the next few years. The brown hare can be seen throughout the year but the~ are most obvious in Spring when their courtship boxing' can often be seen.

The year 2000 was an especially good one for migrant butterflies like the red admiral and the clouded yellow and dragonflies were also seen - there were several sightings of the migrant hawker this year and the first record of the black darter.

Helping to look after the reserve and make it better for birds the Warden is supported by:

  • 30 regular volunteers and many more occasional helpers
  • The staff of the RSPB's regional and country headquarters
  • One million RSPB members across the UK
  • The local community
  • Our sponsors and supporters
  • Five facts to impress your friends

  • Marshside RSPB reserve is internationally important for both pink-footed goose and black-tailed godwit (i.e. it holds more than 1% of the population).
  • The pink-footed goose is perhaps the best known of Marshside's special birds but seven other species occur in nationally important numbers (more than 1% of the uk population) - widgeon, teal, shoveled, ringed plover; golden plover; ruff and bar-tailed godwit.
  • The total number of birds on the reserve in winter may exceed 40,000 birds (or 363 birds per hectare!). During winter gales there may be that number of herring and black-headed gulls alone!
  • These high numbers of birds attract exciting predators. Marshside is one of the best places in the country to see merlins and peregrines.
  • Marshside is number 3 in the RSPB top 10 reserves for wintering waterfowl. It also has the highest density of breeding waders of any of the 150 RSPB reserves - 1 pair per hectare.

    Thanks to one and all. If you would like to help there is still plenty to do! Why not call in at the Sandgrounders' Hide any day 8.30-17.00 if you are interested (Tony Baker is normally at the Sandgrounders' hide every Sunday).

    Tony Baker RSPB Warden.
    Marshside Nature Reserve.