RSPB Reserves 2009

RSPB Reserves 2009



Black Park

Ramna Stacks & Gruney



Loch of Spiggie


Sumburgh Head

Birsay Moors

The Loons and Loch of Banks

Marwick Head

Cottasgarth & Rendall Moss

Noup Cliffs


North Hill



Mill Dam




Eilean Hoan

Loch na Muilne

Blar Nam Faoileag

Forsinard Flows

Priest Island

Troup Head

Edderton Sands

Nigg and Udale Bays


Culbin Sands

Loch of Strathbeg

Fairy Glen

Drimore Farm

Loch Ruthven

Eileanan Dubha Corrimony



Insh Marshes


Lower Lough Erne Islands



The Reef Coll

Loch of Kinnordy

Isle of Tiree

Skinflats Tay reedbeds



and Garrison Farm Vane Farm


Inner Clyde


Smaull Farm




Loch Gruinart/Ardnave

Baron’s Haugh

The Oa

Horse Island

Aird’s Moss


Ailsa Craig

Coquet Island

Lough Foyle

Ken-Dee Marshes

Kirkconnell Merse

Wood of Cree

Campfield Marsh

Larne Lough Islands

Mersehead Geltsdale

Belfast Lough

Portmore Lough

Mull of Galloway & Scar Rocks



St Bees Head

Strangford Bay & Sandy Island

Hodbarrow Leighton Moss & Morecambe Bay

Carlingford Lough Islands

Bempton Cliffs

Hesketh Out Marsh

Fairburn Ings


Read’s Island

Blacktoft Sands

The Skerries

Tetney Marshes

Valley Wetlands

Dearne Valley – Old Moor and Bolton Ings

South Stack Cliffs

Conwy Dee Estuary

EA/RSPB Beckingham Project

Malltraeth Marsh

Morfa Dinlle

Coombes & Churnet Valleys


Freiston Shore

Titchwell Marsh

Lake Vyrnwy

Frampton Marsh Snettisham Sutton Fen

Mawddach Woodlands

Middleton Lakes

Mid Yare Valley

How Hill Fen

Nene Washes

Berney Marshes & Breydon Water


Sandwell Valley

Ouse Washes

Lakenheath Fen

Ouse Fen (Hanson-RSPB project)

Dingle Marshes


Fen Drayton Lakes


Snape North Warren


The Lodge Fowlmere

Havergate Island & Boyton Marshes

Wolves & Ramsey Woods Stour Estuary

Ramsey Island


Old Hall Marshes



Cwm Clydach Nagshead

Rye Meads

Wallasea Island

Vange Marshes

Church Wood Cliffe Pools

Newport Wetlands

West Canvey Marshes

Winterbourne Downs Rainham Marshes

Northward Hill

Shorne Marshes

Nor Marsh & Motney Hill

Normanton Down

Elmley Marshes

Ham Wall

Farnham Heath

Blean Woods

Chapel Wood

Barfold Copse

Tudeley Woods


Isley Marsh

West Sedgemoor

Broadwater Warren

Garston Wood


Fore Wood

Aylesbeare Common Avon Heath

Adur Estuary Lewes Brooks

Exe Estuary


Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks

Bracklesham Bay

Radipole Lake

Wareham Pilsey Island

HMS Cambridge

Lodmoor Meadows

Langstone Harbour

Hayle Estuary

Brading Marshes

Grange Heath

Marazion Marsh



Locations of RSPB reserves

Featured reserves


RSPB Reserves 2009

A review of our work



Introduction: Change in an uncertain world 5

Reserves and wildlife – a review of 2008 6

Progress towards species targets 8

Habitat creation and restoration 12

Land acquisition 14

Condition of RSPB-managed SSSIs/ASSIs 15

Protecting threatened birds 16

Rathlin Island – a stepping stone for range expansion 18

Bitterns return to Somerset 20

Thirty years of seabird monitoring at Sumburgh Head 22

Storm petrel monitoring on Priest Island 24

Restoring lost habitats 26

Berney Marshes – a special place 28

Restoring the Ribble saltmarshes – managed realignment at Hesketh Out Marsh 32

Restoring blanket bog at Lake Vrynwy 34

Improvements for waders and ditch invertebrates at Greylake 40

Beyond birds – improving conditions for wildlife 44

Conserving our rarest plants and animals 46

Tooth fungus recording at Abernethy 50

Controlling invasive non-native plants 54

Reserves and people – a review of 2008 56

Welcoming visitors 58

Bringing nature closer to people 60

The RSPB’s field teaching 62

Thornhill Primary School visits RSPB Old Moor 63

Volunteering towards the vision – a team effort at Middleton Lakes 64

Newport Wetlands – a stunning habitat by the Severn Estuary 66

Improvements for wildlife and people in south and west Scotland 68

Rare birds on RSPB reserves 72

Working for the environment 76

Greening waste management at Pulborough Brooks 78

The RSPB and the Tay reedbeds 80

Working internationally 82

International management planning 84

Thank you to our supporters 88



Chris Gomersall (

Our vision

Our vision is to help achieve a wildlife-rich future by

doubling the area of land managed as RSPB nature

reserves by 2030, protecting our most special places for

birds and all wildlife, and redressing past losses through

habitat restoration and creation. Our reserves will be

rich in wildlife and, through working with adjoining

landowners, act as catalysts to enhance the quality of

the surrounding countryside. They will be wonderful

places where everyone can enjoy, learn about and be

inspired by wildlife.

Increasingly, we will focus on restoring land of low

ecological interest to that of high quality. Although our

ambition may appear large, we believe it is the minimum

that an organisation of the RSPB’s scale and character

should seek to contribute, given the size of the task

facing us.

In the Fens, we are protecting black-tailed godwit breeding sites at the Nene Washes and creating

new habitat for them adjacent to the Ouse Washes


Gwyn Williams


Change in an uncertain world

2009 marks the 200th anniversary of

the birth of arguably the world’s

greatest biologist – Charles Darwin –

and the 150th anniversary of the

publication of On the Origin of the

Species, in which he presented his

theory of evolution. One building

block in developing his ideas around

natural selection was the role of

grazing by domestic cattle at

Farnham Heath, Surrey, in sustaining

the area as heath and preventing

invasion by Scots pine. Following

conifer afforestation, much of the

area would be unrecognisable to

Darwin now, although part is now an

RSPB reserve, under restoration to

heath. Once again, cattle are being

used to keep the heathland open.

Since Darwin was born, the area

of heathland has shrunk by about

five-sixths. We believe that it is

important to safeguard the remaining

areas through designation but also

through sympathetic ownership and

management that will help protect

and enhance the many species that

depend on this habitat. Many

habitats, heath is just one example,

are of high wildlife value but little

economic value. The remaining

fragments will always be under threat

from development pressure and their

best and most secure future must

surely be to be managed with nature

conservation as their main purpose.

Some commentators have suggested

that nature reserves are an outmoded

static concept in a dynamic world of

changing climate. We disagree – if

anything, we need more and bigger

nature reserves to reduce habitat

fragmentation, build resilience to

climate change and allow species to

move from stepping stone to stepping

stone in response to changing

conditions. We also need to create

habitats in places where the climate

may become suitable for shifting

species. Provision at a landscape scale

will increase the robustness of both

current and future wildlife-rich habitat

– something that we are seeking to

deliver through our Futurescapes

programme, both through our direct

work and through partnerships.

Also since Darwin was born, the

population of the UK has increased

six-fold, and yet fewer people live with

abundant nature on their doorstep.

RSPB nature reserves provide people

with opportunities to get close to

nature and fall in love with it. We are

delighted that visits to our nature

reserves continue to grow –

1.9 million last year, up 200,000 on

the year before. We will continue to

invest in giving visitors rewarding

experiences of nature – whether at

inner-city sites, such as Sandwell

Valley, Birmingham, or remote sites

such as Forsinard Flows, in the heart

of the Flow Country of Caithness

and Sutherland.

Charles Darwin loved nature

and understood it deeply. His

observations of the everyday plants

and animals around him were as

influential in shaping his thinking as

was what he saw on the voyage of

The Beagle. We hope that by

protecting nature we may help to

inspire future generations, not only of

scientists but also of politicians,

entrepreneurs and citizens to ensure

that nature has a place in our lives for

at least the next 200 years.

Gwyn Williams

Head of Reserves and Protected Areas

Dr Mark Avery

Director of Conservation

Farnham Heath, where we are restoring a lowland heath mosaic by removing conifer plantation


Andy Hay (

Reserves and wildlife

a review of 2008

The strategic aims of the work on our reserves are:

• to ensure that all Sites and Areas of Special Scientific

Interest (SSSIs and ASSIs) for which the RSPB is

responsible for delivery of favourable condition are

classified as in favourable or unfavourable recovering

condition by 2012 in Scotland, Wales and Northern

Ireland, and 2010 in England

• to ensure that populations of 11 key species of bird are

at least maintained at 2005 levels on the existing

reserve network

• to ensure that populations of 15 priority species of bird

are enhanced by 2012 on the existing reserve network

• to create important new habitats on land acquired

before 2006

• to ensure wildlife thrives on reserves

• to acquire further land to support our conservation


Progress was made towards these aims in 2008 and is

reported in the following chapter.

Numbers of stone-curlews increased from six to 10 pairs on RSPB reserves between 2007 and 2008.


Andy Hay (

Numbers of lapwings increased on RSPB lowland wet grassland reserves, but suffered a second year of poor

productivity at the Ouse Washes due to spring flooding

Progress towards species targets

We aim to maintain the

populations of 11 key bird

species at or above their 2005

levels. Ambitious targets have

been set to increase

populations of a further 15 key

bird species breeding on our

reserves by 2012 (see table).

Species making good

progress towards achieving

their 2012 targets

Seven species – bittern, black grouse,

chough, corncrake, crane, lapwing (on

lowland wet grassland) and redshank

(on lowland wet grassland) – are

currently on track to achieve or

major highlight of 2008 was the

discovery of two bittern nests at

Ham Wall – the first time bitterns

have nested at one of our

recently created reedbeds. It was

also the first year that there were

two booming bitterns at the

newly created Lakenheath Fen.

Figures for 2008 show mixed

progress, with 16 species set

exceed their 2012 targets.

• The total number of lekking male

black grouse on reserves

to achieve or exceed their

2012 targets and eight set to

remain below their targets if

current populations trends

continue. Numbers of the

remaining two priority species

have not been monitored

regularly on RSPB reserves.

• Booming bitterns showed a

dramatic increase in numbers

both on reserves and nationally in

2008. There was a national total

of 76 booming males (51 in 2007)

and 39 nests. These are the

highest numbers since regular

monitoring started in 1990. A

decreased slightly between 2007

and 2008, after a dramatic increase

since 2005. Slight declines took

place at Abernethy and Corrimony,

after large (and in the case of

Abernethy, unexpected) increases

at both sites in 2007. At Geltsdale

two lekking male black grouse and

Populations of priority bird species on RSPB reserves

Species 2005 2006 2007 2008 2012 target

Slavonian grebe 2 2 3 4 2

Black-necked grebe 0 1 0 1 5

Bittern (booming males) 18 19 20 26 34

Common scoter 11 14 10 10 11

Hen harrier (nests)

Original targets and numbers 49 51 41 – 55

Revised targets and numbers* 53 – – 43 59

Black grouse (lekking males) 104 151 189 174 170

Capercaillie (lekking males) 48 39 47 41 60

Spotted crake 10 13 14 12 10

Corncrake (calling males) 242 266 294 240 330

Crane 0 0 1–2 2 3

Stone-curlew 7 7 6 10 20

Lapwing (on lowland wet grassland) 1,311 1,366 1,392 1,458 1,650

Snipe (on lowland wet grassland) 542 579 495 565 700

Black-tailed godwit L l limosa 46 50 43 43 46

Whimbrel 10 n/a >8 8 10

Redshank (on lowland wet grassland) 1,070 1,128 1,180 1,196 1,300

Red-necked phalarope (males) 18 12 8 6 18

Little tern 191 127 137 113 191


Original targets and numbers 90 >85 87 – 90

Revised targets and numbers** 71 75 68 65 71


Original targets and numbers 83 80 83 – 83

Revised targets and numbers** 76 73 76 75 76

Dartford warbler

Original targets and numbers 164 122 c 145 – 200

Revised targets and numbers** 139 108 c 132 c 130 165

Crested tit c 200 n/a n/a n/a c 200

Golden oriole 2 2 3 2 4

Chough 31 34 37 34 40

Scottish crossbill n/a n/a n/a 23 n/a

Cirl bunting 0 0 0 0 1

Note: Figures are pairs except where stated otherwise. Crested tits are not currently monitored on RSPB reserves. Scottish crossbills were monitored on

sample areas of Abernethy and Corrimony for the first time in 2008.

* The original target has been revised because of changes in recording areas at one of their key RSPB sites, Forsinard Flows.

** The original target has been revised because one of the sites at which they breed, Avon Heath, is no longer an RSPB reserve.

a number of females were located

on the eastern part of the reserve

for the first time. This area had

been grazed by cattle specifically to

provide suitable habitat conditions.

This is particularly encouraging

given the very low productivity

observed throughout the wider

North Pennines area.

• The number of singing

corncrakes on reserves has

increased since 2005 as a

consequence of measures to

enhance early cover and provide

late-cut meadows. However, after

a long period of sustained

increase, the total numbers of

singing corncrakes on reserves

declined between 2007 and

2008. This overall decline of



Andy Hay (

on the RSPB-managed section of

the Ouse Washes for the fourth

year running, as a result of the

impact of spring flooding.

• Total numbers of churring nightjars

and singing woodlarks have

remained fairly stable on RSPB

began in 1971. These 29 pairs

raised just 14 young.

• Trends in total numbers of

breeding hen harriers on RSPB

reserves are difficult to assess,

because recording areas for

raptors at Forsinard Flows reserve

breeding snipe population of

England and Wales during the last

Breeding Waders of Wet

Meadows Survey in 2002.

• It was a poor year for breeding

little terns on RSPB reserves

overall, although a large increase

conditions for phalaropes on

RSPB reserves by creating more

open water, increasing

fluctuation in water levels, and

increasing grazing.

Species not previously

monitored on RSPB reserves

reserves since 2005. At Farnham

have been revised so that they

in numbers at Minsmere gives

Heath, where heathland is being

now cover a more representative

cause for optimism. Little terns

The first national survey of Scottish

created, churring nightjars

proportion of the reserve. There

have suffered a long-term decline

crossbills (using tape-luring) took

increased from two in 2007 to

were, though, small declines at a

in the UK, which is largely

place in 2008, and included sample

three in 2008, while singing

number of reserves between

explained by low annual

areas at Abernethy and Corrimony.

woodlarks increased from four in

2007 and 2008. Worryingly, there

productivity. At Minsmere 41 pairs

The survey estimated a total of

2007 to six in 2008.

were no breeding hen harriers at

of little terns nested, 38 on the

41 crossbills at Abernethy, of which

Geltsdale for the second year

beach and three on cockle shell-

18 were Scottish crossbills. A total

Bitterns nested for the first time in reedbed created

at our Ham Wall nature reserve

Species making unsatisfactory

progress towards achieving

their 2012 targets

running, despite there being an

estimated minimum of seven

different birds recorded in suitable

coated islands created for them

on the Scrape last winter. The last

time that little terns nested on the

population of 20 crossbills was

estimated at Corrimony, with five

of these being Scottish crossbills.

nesting habitat there during the

Scrape was in 2005 (one pair

Overall, Scots pine was not favoured

Eight species are currently not on

breeding season. We do not know

which failed at the egg stage).

by crossbills throughout the national

54 birds was almost entirely due

Species making satisfactory

track to achieve their 2012 targets.

what happened to these birds.

census, and crossbills were absent

to a decline of 50 singing birds on

progress towards achieving

These are Slavonian grebe, black-

• Numbers of male red-necked

from many areas where they are

Coll. It is not obvious why this

their 2012 targets

necked grebe, hen harrier,

• Numbers of lekking capercaillie

phalaropes have declined at all

usually found. There was a good

has occurred.

capercaillie, snipe (on lowland wet

declined slightly. Productivity was

three RSPB reserves where they

cone crop of Sitka spruce and

Nine species are predicted to achieve,

grassland), red-necked phalarope,

extremely low for the fifth year

have bred since 2005. It is

lodgepole pine in 2007/8, which

• At the Nene Washes, where

or closely achieve, their 2012 targets.

little tern and Dartford warbler.

running, again at least in part due

believed that the UK breeding

may have attracted crossbills to

corncrakes are being re-introduced,

These are common scoter, spotted

to poor weather.

population is strongly influenced

these tree species instead.

numbers of singing corncrakes

(including those on non-RSPB land)

crake, stone-curlew, black-tailed

godwit, whimbrel, nightjar, woodlark,

• Numbers of breeding Slavonian

grebes increased from three to

• A highlight in 2008 was the

by a combination of local

weather, and conditions closer to

Other wildlife

increased from five in 2007 to 14

golden oriole and cirl bunting.

four pairs on the RSPB section of

dramatic increase in drumming

the centre of the species’ range.

Information on other wildlife on RSPB

in 2008. Numbers on the RSPB

Loch Ruthven, but declined from

snipe at West Sedgemoor – up

We are, though, enhancing

reserves is described on pages 46–49.

reserve itself increased from three

• Stone-curlews increased from

19 to 13 pairs on Loch Ruthven as

from 39 in 2007 to 80 in 2008.

to nine.

two to three pairs at Minsmere.

a whole. 2008 was the first year

The previous highest ever count

These three pairs fledged a total

in which no young were raised

of drumming snipe at this site

• Two pairs of common cranes

nested at Lakenheath Fen in 2008.

They first bred there in 2007.

• Overall, numbers of breeding

lapwings and redshanks on the

RSPB’s principal lowland wet

grassland reserves have increased

consistently since 2005.

of six birds, which were virtually

all the stone-curlews thought

to have fledged on the entire

Suffolk coast.

• Total numbers of breeding limosa

race black-tailed godwits on

reserves in 2008 were the same as

in 2007, but black-tailed godwits at

there since 1982. The reasons for

this are unknown. More

encouragingly, there was a

territorial pair of adults plus a third

individual present at Loch of

Strathbeg, after major

remediation work undertaken at

the loch between 2006 and 2008.

These are the first records of

was 64 in 1977. At the Nene

Washes numbers of drumming

snipe recovered to 173, following

low numbers (125 drummers) in

2007. Snipe also increased at Loch

Gruinart from 60 drummers in

2007 to 76 in 2008. As with other

wader species, virtually all

breeding snipe at the Ouse

Chris Gomersall (

Disappointingly though, virtually all

the Nene Washes had a very

summering Slavonian grebes at

Washes were washed out by

breeding lapwings, redshanks and

productive breeding season,

Loch of Strathbeg. There were

spring flooding for the second

other waders at the Ouse Washes

fledging 34 young from 40 pairs.

just 29 pairs of Slavonian grebes

year running. The whole of the

were washed out by spring flooding

This follows two years of low

recorded at 12 lochs nationally,

Ouse Washes supported 37% of

for the second year running.

breeding success. No godwits bred

the lowest since full recording

the lowland wet grassland

There are mixed fortunes for Slavonian grebes



Reedbed being created at Lakenheath Fen

Habitat creation

and restoration

Progress towards achieving our

restoration targets for priority

habitats on land acquired before 2006

is summarised below.

Reedbed target: 220 ha created

by 2012

Progress since 2005:

Suitable hydrological conditions for

reed expansion created and pools and

channels constructed over 142 ha.

Lowland heath target: 360 ha

created by 2012, and a further 95

ha progressing towards a

restored condition by 2012

Progress since 2005:

102 ha of plantation on afforested

heathland felled since 2005, 34 ha

seeded with heather, and heathland

regenerating naturally on other

felled areas. Heathland vegetation

also establishing on over 26 ha of

ex-arable land.

Plantation removal at The Lodge is now complete and heather

seedlings are beginning to come through

Gwyn Williams

Malcolm Ausden (RSPB)

Wet grassland created on ex-arable land adjacent to

the Ouse Washes

Wet grassland target: 1,293 ha

restored by 2012

Progress since 2005:

Raised water levels and other

capital works (water storage

reservoirs and construction of pools

and channels) completed over an

area of 682 ha.

Lowland calcareous grassland

target: 290 ha created on exarable

progressing towards a

restored condition by 2012

Progress since 2005:

63 ha seeded with a calcareous

grassland seed mix and being

managed to facilitate establishment

of a flower-rich sward.

The early stages of calcareous grassland creation at Winterbourne Downs

Malcolm Ausden (RSPB)

Andy Hay (

Native pinewood target: 830 ha

progressing towards a restored

condition by 2012

Progress since 2005:

105 ha planted with native trees

and c.48 ha cut or burnt to create

open ground to encourage tree

regeneration. Deer numbers are

maintained at low enough levels to

allow natural regeneration of trees

over the full 830 ha.

Active blanket bog target: 327 ha

restored by 2012 and 584 ha

progressing towards a restored

condition by 2012

Progress since 2005

448 ha of trees removed from

afforested blanket bog.

Intertidal mud and saltmarsh

target: 104 ha created by 2012

Malcolm Ausden (RSPB)

Pine regeneration at Corrimony

Progress since 2005:

102 ha landformed and open to tidal


Intertidal habitat developing at Exe Estuary


Andy Hay (

Broubster Leans: a new wetland reserve in Caithness

Condition of



Almost three-quarters of the land

managed by the RSPB is designated

as SSSI/ASSI (Site/Area of Special

Scrub removal at Mid Yare


At Mid Yare, in the Norfolk Broads, the RSPB has been restoring substantial

areas of fen since 1975. This fen Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

supports an outstanding diversity of wildlife, including scarce plants such as

milk parsley and marsh pea, and rare invertebrates including swallowtail

butterfly, as well as breeding bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tit. In 2004

Scientific Interest), reflecting the

around 100 ha of fen remained in unfavourable condition because of

high wildlife value of the RSPB’s

excessive scrub, and the RSPB and Natural England agreed a plan to

reserve network.

remove 27 ha of scrub to address this.

In England, 22,594 ha (86.1%) of the

The RSPB employed two specialist contractors with a track record of

26,214 ha of SSSI managed by the

clearing scrub without damaging the vegetation and fragile peat surface.

RSPB was assessed as being in

Work began in September 2007, and completion is expected in 2011, at a

favourable condition or unfavourable

cost of £400,000, supported by generous grants from Natural England and

recovering condition by Natural

SITA Trust.

England in 2008, compared with

21,355 ha (80.9%) in 2007. Only

In addition to removing scrub from the fen, fulfilling our legal

388.5 ha (1.4%) was in unfavourable

responsibilities, the RSPB has restored 5,000 m of ditches, providing new

condition as a result of factors

habitat for bitterns and otters. By reconnecting fragmented habitat, the

within, or partly within, the RSPB’s

project will enhance over 350 ha of fen, allowing species such as

control. This compares with 1,154 ha

swallowtail butterflies, bitterns and otters, to expand. A programme of

(4%) in 2007. Plans for remedial

rotational scrub control will now be extended to the restored fen to ensure

action have been agreed with Natural

the habitat remains in good condition.

England for 387.4 ha.

Land acquisition

to RSPB landholdings, comprising six

new reserves, totalling 668 ha (28%

grassland, saline lagoon

and reedbed).

In Scotland, monitoring of SSSI

condition is based on the condition

of the individual features assessed

across the whole SSSI. Of the 511

Twenty-seven hectares of scrub are being removed from Mid Yare to

enhance 350 ha of SSSI fen

Tim Strudwick

New reserves are selected based on

of the total), and 19 extensions at 15

SSSI features assessed within RSPB

the contribution they can make to the

reserves, totalling 1,737 ha (72% of

Our supporters

reserves, 386 (76%) were in

delivery of our overall objectives. They

the total). On 1 April 2008, the RSPB

In 2007–8 we received £875,450 in

favourable or unfavourable

tend to focus on habitats which need

managed 140,441 ha at 203 reserves.

grants for land acquisition. Grants of

recovering condition in 2008. This

management to sustain their

£754,000 were received from the

compares with 76% out of the total

conservation interest. Often we are

The new reserves were:

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for Valley

of 501 features assessed by August

taking on new land working in

• Lydden Valley, Kent (drained

Wetlands and Dee Estuary. The

2007. Forty-eight features at 27

partnership with others.

grassland for restoration to wet

Environment Agency granted £67,500

reserves are in unfavourable


at Hesketh Out Marsh and £85,000

condition for reasons that could be

Increasing the size of habitat areas is

• Seasalter Levels, Kent (drained

at Lydden Valley, while £9,500 was

within RSPB control (9% of the 511

one mechanism of making them

grassland for restoration to wet

received from Veolia ES Cleanaway

features monitored).

more robust to external pressures.


Pitsea Marshes Trust to acquire

• Broubster Leans, Caithness

Vange. There were also some private

Information on the condition of RSPB-

We look to extend reserves where

(mainly wet grassland, swamp and

donations, particularly at Saltholme

managed units in Wales and Northern

opportunities arise for new land that

wet heath)

and a members’ appeal to purchase

Ireland is not available from the

could provide habitat which would

• Dunnet Head, Caithness (sea cliffs

Broubster Leans. We are grateful to

statutory conservation organisations.

benefit the existing reserve.

and coastal grassland)

all our supporters, a list of whom is

During 2007/8, 2,405 ha were added

• Newport Wetlands, Gwent (wet

published in the RSPB Annual Review.




Andrew Parkinson (


threatened birds

RSPB reserves are very effective at conserving bird species with

small UK populations breeding in localised habitats. Over the last

half-century, RSPB reserves have played an important part in

preventing the extinction of several UK breeding birds (such as

marsh harriers and Dartford warblers) and in greatly aiding the

impressive recovery of others (such as bitterns, avocets and

corncrakes). Our reserves support more than 1% of the UK

breeding populations of 63 bird species. Most of the bird species

that breed on RSPB reserves in UK important numbers have either

increased or remained stable on reserves since 1990.

By 2008, there were 74 pairs of marsh harriers breeding on RSPB reserves, a species that has recovered

from there being no breeding pairs in the UK at the beginning of the last century



David Wootton (

Choughs are now back breeding on Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island – a stepping stone for range expansion

Rathlin Island lies between the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland and

the North Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. It is Northern

Ireland’s only inhabited island, with a resident population of just

under one hundred people and up to 250,000 breeding seabirds.

The lives of the islanders have always been intrinsically linked to

the breeding seabird population; in the past eggs were harvested

to supplement diet and during the wartime rationing seabird eggs

were sold by islanders in Ballycastle, the nearest mainland town.

Today a third of all visitors to the island visit the RSPB’s seabird

centre, and each visit helps to bolster the island economy. Once

again, seabirds are contributing to a sustainable community.


Creating a recovery area

for corncrakes

Corncrakes were plentiful on Rathlin

up to the early 1980s. The introduction

of a single tractor-driven mower to the

island resulted in their dramatic

decline. It was a familiar story

throughout their range. Agricultural

improvements led to silage

production, associated with earlier

cutting, and the introduction of rotary

mowers cutting spirally inwards from

the field edge, catching adults and

broods in their blades. The demise of

this short-lived bird that depends on

high productivity was sudden, and by

the late 1980s corncrakes had all but

disappeared from Rathlin.

To encourage corncrakes to return to

the island we have created areas of

early and late cover for male

corncrakes, providing them with cover

in which to conceal themselves, call

from and possibly breed. Plants such

as nettles, which grow early in the

season, have been introduced and

encouraged through the application of

rotting silage. We have also restored

meadows with an open structure for

the birds to feed and breed in.

In 2008, on the Scottish island of Islay

there were 82 calling males and on

the Inishowen in the Irish Republic

there were 20 calling males. As the

corncrake flies, Rathlin Island is less

than 20 miles from both places. As

these populations continue to grow

and expand their range, we hope that

this habitat restoration will once again

bring corncrakes back to Rathlin.

Restoring the chough to

its former range

The chough was once the most

common crow on Rathlin Island, and

up until the mid 1980s there was a

post-breeding flock of almost 30

birds. Numbers declined drastically

and by 1991 choughs were no longer

present on the island. We have

bought several sections of cliff and

adjacent land next to historical nest

sites. Where cliff grazing is absent, it

will be reinstated, and in 2009 we

will introduce Manx Loghtan sheep

to graze the cliffs. Elsewhere, the

island farmers follow agreed agrienvironment

options and RSPB

Management Agreements, that focus

on the management of sward to

enhance the fields for foraging

choughs. The primary aim is to

maintain a sward height low enough

for choughs to access invertebrates.

The chough is a species that seems to

take its time expanding its range, so

establishing a sustainable population

is a long-term goal. However, we have

started that journey: two choughs

arrived on Rathlin in late April 2006

and bred successfully on the island

(not on the RSPB reserve) in 2007 and

2008. The pair that bred in 2007 were

the first choughs to breed on the

island for 19 years.


seabird declines

Like many seabird colonies in the UK,

the seabird colony on Rathlin is

causing concern. Surveys indicate that

numbers decreased between 1999

and 2007, and complete breeding

failures have been noted for

guillemots in 2005 and kittiwakes in

2005 and 2006. Three plots of

breeding seabirds have been

monitored by the RSPB on Rathlin

since 1979. The data suggest that

kittiwake numbers and breeding

success are continuing to be a major

problem. Investigations into the role of

food availability and predation are

being undertaken by the RSPB and

The Queen’s University of Belfast to

try to understand these declines.

Visiting the island

The Rathlin Island Seabird Centre is

based in one of the three lighthouses

on Rathlin, known locally as the West

Lighthouse. The West Lighthouse sits

halfway down a 300-foot cliff in the

middle of Northern Ireland’s biggest

seabird colony. The RSPB has been

showing visitors the fantastic wildlife

spectacle since 1979 by kind

permission of the Commissioners of

Irish Lights. The lighthouse was

automated in 1986, enabling us to

develop the new Seabird Centre. The

centre was officially opened in June

2008 and received over 11,000 visits

in the same year.

Thanks to:

Rathlin Island Community, Northern

Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA),

Department of Agriculture and Rural

Development (DARD), Causeway

Coast and Glens Heritage Trust,

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Northern

Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and the

Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL).

The Rathlin Island Seabird

Centre opened in 2008

Andy Hay (

20 RSPB RESERVES 2009 21

Andy Hay (

From the outset, Ham Wall was

designed with bitterns in mind, the

emphasis being on wet reedbed

with plenty of edge, reed-lined pools

and ditches. Birds responded to the

newly created habitat, with over 400

pairs of reed warblers breeding

within a few years and bearded tits

colonising in 2005. Grazing using

traditional breeds was introduced in

2005, and reedbed management has

been largely mechanised so that the

appropriate rotation of cutting can

be achieved.

This was the first successful breeding

in Somerset for 40 years, and we hope

it is the first step towards establishing

an inland breeding population in the

south-west of England.

Thanks to:

EC LIFE-Nature, Heritage Lottery Fund,

Leader + and SITA.

Results of reedbed assessment showing percentage of attributes in

favourable condition for bitterns in 2007. A restoration programme

has now commenced at Radipole.




Fish attributes

Habitat attributes

Studies of the habitat by our


In 2008, Ham Wall became the first RSPB reedbed created in recent years to hold

successfully breeding bitterns

ecologists showed that conditions had

been suitable for breeding bitterns for

several years, but progress with this

species was frustratingly slow.

Booming males were present from

2002 until 2005, but each year the

booming was short-lived and breeding

did not take place. In the following

years, despite regular sightings of

wintering birds, no further booming

was recorded. Staff and volunteers

were starting to wonder if successful

breeding would ever take place.









Ham Wall


North Warren

Leighton Moss








Bitterns return to Somerset

Since 1994 the RSPB has been creating a wetland on the

Somerset Levels and Moors on land previously used for

peat extraction. Within sight of Glastonbury Tor, Ham Wall

nature reserve has grown rapidly and is now a diverse

mix of reedbed, fen, grassland and woodland covering

over 200 ha. The reserve forms part of the Avalon

Marshes, which consist of over 1,000 ha of wetland

habitat under conservation management.


In March 2008 these concerns were

put to rest when two booming males

were recorded at the site. One of

the males boomed weakly for two

weeks and then fell silent. The

other male, however, boomed

strongly from the outset and called

for 12 weeks.

Having a male bird present and

booming this strongly was great

news for the reserve, but several

weeks later monitoring revealed that

there were two active nests at the

site, with female birds regularly

feeding young. It is believed that both

nests fledged young.

A rare glimpse of a bittern in flight

John Crispin

22 RSPB RESERVES 2009 23

Helen Moncrieff

Martin Heubeck on the way back from Ramna Stacks and Gruney,

where he has recorded huge declines in kittiwakes over the last 30 years

Thirty years of seabird monitoring at Sumburgh Head

When oil was found in the waters east of Shetland in the mid 1970s

and Sullom Voe became the hub of an infant oil industry in the UK,

The seabird colony on the southern

tip of Shetland at Sumburgh Head

was an early choice for monitoring

the health of the wider Shetland

environment. Since 1977, SOTEAG

have been monitoring seabirds at this

vast colony. A detailed picture of the

life of its seabirds has emerged,

showing that factors beyond oil

pollution continue to have a big effect

on the numbers and success of

breeding birds here. Intensive

sandeel fishing in the 1980s and early

1990s and incidents such as the

Braer oil spill in 1993 have not

helped, but more recently

fundamental changes in marine

ecosystems in the North Sea and

beyond have been implicated in a

steady decline in the fortunes of

seabirds all around Shetland.

In 1994, the RSPB entered agreement

with the owners of Sumburgh Head to

form the RSPB reserve here. The data

collected independently by SOTEAG on

the reserve have helped to inform

visitors and also the RSPB’s policy and

advocacy campaigns on the latest

news on the seabird story each year.

The data form some of the best longterm

information that the RSPB has on

seabird trends and, coupled with data

from other sites around Shetland,

must rank as some of the best longterm

seabird data in the world.

Martin and Mick are not just counting

the numbers of seabirds; they are

also looking at the timing of egglaying,

hatching and chick-rearing

periods, as well as estimating how

many chicks make it to fledge off the

cliffs and into the sea.

“The intensity of guillemot monitoring

at Sumburgh Head over such a long

period of time reveals not only the

day-to-day life of individuals within the

colony but also the long-term trends,”

says Martin. “Studying a broad suite

of species and their productivity is

hugely important. It helps us gain an

insight into what is going on

throughout the water column, in that

different species exploit different prey

at different depths.”

Sadly, the picture at Sumburgh is

indicative of a wider-scale problem for















seabirds in Shetland and even across

the whole of the north Atlantic. What

some have described as an ecological

“regime shift” is happening in the

plankton communities that drive the

food webs of the oceans. Cold water

and warm water species of

invertebrate zooplankton are

swapping predominance in the

warming waters of the North Sea,

causing a shift in their abundance

through the year. The knock-on effects

up the food chain through young

sandeels and hence to birds are now

becoming apparent, particularly in

kittiwakes, and Martin’s long-term

monitoring is a key piece of evidence.

Thanks to:

SOTEAG for supplying their data for

this article and to Martin Heubeck

and Mick Mellor for their continued

co-operation at Sumburgh Head.




1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007






concerns about the effects of this new and potentially polluting

pressure led to the formation of an independent advisor to the

industry – the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group

(SOTEAG). At the time, public awareness of oil as a threat to marine

and human health had been heightened by shipping disasters like the

Torrey Canyon (1967), Amoco Cadiz (1978) and Esso Bernicia (1978).

Pictures of severely oiled seabirds and blackened beaches

strengthened moves to protect and monitor Shetland’s hugely rich

marine environment.



During the brief Shetland summer,

Martin Heubeck and his co-worker

Mick Mellor spend virtually every

waking hour counting seabirds either

at sea or from seemingly precarious

vantage points overlooking the vast

thronging cliffs. “It's a great view!”,

beams Martin. “I've witnessed all

weather and sea states. Sometimes

even in the height of summer the

weather can intervene, with gales

making observations impossible.”

Index (1978=100)






Abundance of three species of seabirds at














ra zorbill


fulma r




Storm petrels nest in crevices and underground burrows


Storm petrel monitoring on

Priest Island

The RSPB reserve of Priest Island lies off the coast of Wester Ross, and

is the outermost of the Summer Isles. In a wild and truly stunning

location, the reserve has the third largest colony of breeding storm

petrels in Britain, and is designated SSSI and SPA for these birds,

supporting almost 1% of the world’s breeding population.

The location presents wardens with many challenges. The rugged island

is a one-hour journey on a local prawn fisherman’s boat from one of

the remotest harbours in Scotland; all food, water and equipment have

to be brought on to the island and accommodation is under canvas.



Storm petrels are a cryptic species,

coming ashore only at night and

nesting in crevices and underground

burrows. On Priest Island we have

been working to refine monitoring

methods to provide a better picture

of population trends.


Tape-response is the standard method

for monitoring breeding storm petrels.

It calculates the probability of a

response to a tape playback of the

male storm petrel purr call. All suitable

nesting habitat (which includes boulder

beaches, boulder screes, old stone

walls, cracks in peat and under deep

heather) is sampled. Calibration plots

are visited daily during the survey in

order to provide a response rate

against which to correct the sample

data. This survey is done in the middle

of July, when peak occupancy of

burrows is thought to occur. Two full

island surveys have been undertaken

so far, in 1999 and 2004.

The time when most burrows are

occupied varies; therefore the rate of

occupancy depends on when you

survey. The birds respond to tapes only

during incubation and the first few

days of chick-rearing, so the timing of

tape-response surveys is key. To

overcome this, we are installing 50

nest boxes so that we can discover

the timing of breeding and use this

information to interpret results. We can

also use nest boxes to gain more

accurate correction factors, because

we know what proportion are

occupied (unlike natural sites).


Mark-recapture surveys are undertaken

annually in the middle of June, before

wandering non-breeders arrive at the

island. Only 8% of the birds ringed

on Priest Island are ever caught

elsewhere, as we are mainly catching

established breeding adults that do not

wander to other colonies. Birds are

caught over three nights, and at peak

times more than three birds per

minute are processed. Birds are

ringed, or the existing ring number is

recorded. The data are analysed using

the Jolly-Seber method, which

incorporates the previous year’s data

when calculating the current year’s

population estimate. This means that a

population estimate for a given year is

not available until the following year’s

data are analysed. However, this

method is the most suited to our



The tape-response and mark-recapture

methods provide us with information

on two different elements of the

population dynamics: tape-response

measures nest-site occupancy during

the breeding season, whereas markrecapture

measures the number of

Priest Island storm petrel population estimates,


Apparently occupied sites (tape response)












Bars show 95% confidence limits

birds attending the colony at the start

of the breeding season (not all of

which will successfully breed). These

two methods produce estimates of

the breeding population at different

points in the breeding cycle, providing

a clearer picture of how this enigmatic

seabird is faring on our nature reserve.

Our dataset of population estimates

indicates there may be a declining

population of storm petrels on Priest

Island, contrasting with an increase on

Mousa, Shetland. It is important that

we continue to monitor storm petrels,

as they feed on plankton and are a

good species for detecting changes in

the marine environment

Thanks to:

We are grateful to Scottish Natural

Heritage for funding.

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008











Adults (mark-recapture)




Steve Austin (

Restoring lost habitats

The main cause of loss of biodiversity in the last century

has been destruction of habitat. RSPB nature reserves

conserve more than 5% of the UK resource of native

Caledonian pine, reedbed, Flow Country deep peat blanket

bog, wet grassland and brackish lagoons, and also

significant areas of lowland heath and intertidal habitats.

Nature reserves allow the re-creation of lost habitats in the

areas from which they have disappeared, or their creation

in new areas. The RSPB has been particularly active in

creating and restoring reedbeds, wet grasslands and

heathlands which are important habitats for birds, and in so

doing has contributed significantly to UK Biodiversity

Action Plan (BAP) targets for these habitats.

Landscape-scale restoration of blanket bog is underway at Forsinard Flows




Mike Page

Restoration of the site

Initially, water levels were managed

by embanking a series of marshes

and pumping water into these

embanked areas using diesel pumps.

In 1994 this was changed to raising

the water levels across the whole

site and removing many of the

embankments. Water levels were

controlled using a series of sluices,

windpumps and submersible pumps.

Number of pairs







More recently we have focussed

more on creating shallow water for

waders and wildfowl by using

footdrains – long, shallow, wet

features with gently sloping sides.

These allow water to flow from

surrounding ditches into low areas

within fields, to provide shallow

water flashes which form the perfect

habitat for wintering waterfowl and

breeding waders and their chicks.










Total numbers of breeding wet grassland waders

(lapwing, redshank, snipe and oystercatcher) at

Berney Marshes















We use four local graziers who

supply us with about 700 head of

An aerial view of Berney Marshes with Breydon Water in the distance

Berney Marshes – a special place

RSPB Berney Marshes nature reserve near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, is one of the

RSPB’s hidden gems. Established in 1987, it has now grown to 485 ha, all of which

is under management for wintering waterfowl and breeding waders. The site is

within the 6,000 ha of Halvergate Marshes, which is one of the largest areas of

continuous grassland left in the UK.

The adjacent Breydon Water estuary, 385 ha, is also managed by the RSPB in

partnership with a local wildfowling group. Berney Marshes and Breydon Water

combined form one of the most important areas in Norfolk for breeding waders

and wintering waterfowl, with populations regularly exceeding 75,000 wintering

birds and 300 pairs of breeding waders.


cattle and 100 sheep. This allows

flexible management throughout the

year so that optimum grass height

is achieved.

Understanding innovative


Berney Marshes has played an

important role in the development of

agri-environment schemes. It started

with the experimental Broadland

Grazing Marsh Scheme in the 1980s

that provided the model for the

introduction of the Europe-wide

Environmentally Sensitive Areas

Scheme. More recently, the

effectiveness of footdrains in

providing suitable habitat for waders

and their chicks has been extensively

researched at the site. This has led to

many recommendations for breeding

Management work has concentrated on improving control

of water levels across the marshes

Chris Gomersall (


wader management, which are now

being used successfully across the


The site played a major role in

the eight-year RSPB experiment

investigating the impact of fox and

crow predation on lapwing nest

survival. At Berney Marshes,

controlling foxes and crows resulted

in an increase in lapwing breeding

productivity and numbers of nesting

adults, although similar increases did

not occur at all sites in the

experiment. We are now extending

the research in a Defra-funded

Daily nest predation rate













Number of lapwing nests within a 100 m radius




Lapwings breed in the short open swards at Berney. They feed in the wet

muddy margins of pools and footdrains

Sue Tranter (

project to investigate whether there

are ways in which we can manage

the wet grassland habitat to influence

nest site selection by waders,

encouraging them to nest in bigger

groups in field centres. We hope that

this will make them less vulnerable

to fox predation and provide an

Variation in daily nest predation rates (± SE) in relation

to the number of neighbouring lapwing nests within a

100 m radius (from Eglington 2008). The graph shows

that where lapwings nest at high densities (i.e. have

more neighbours nearby), they suffer lower levels of

nest predation.

alternative to fox control.

At Berney – a very special place set in

Eglington, S.M., Gill, J.A., Bolton, M.,

an amazing landscape, with a

Smart, M.A., Sutherland, W.J. &

stunning winter and spring bird

Watkinson, A.R. (2008). Restoration of

display – we are determined to

wet features for breeding waders on

investigate new and innovative ideas

lowland grassland. Journal of Applied

to help us understand what is

Ecology, 45, 305-314.

happening to lowland breeding wader

populations in the UK and what we

can do to help stop the decline.

Eglington, S.M., Gill, J.A., Smart, M.A.,

Thanks to:

Sutherland, W.J., Watkinson, A.R. &

The habitat improvements and

Bolton, M. (2009). Habitat

experimental work at Berney have

management and patterns of predation

been supported by Biffa and Defra.

of Northern Lapwings on wet

grasslands: The influence of linear

Further reading:

habitat structures at different spatial

Bolton, M., Tyler, G., Smith, K. &

scales. Biological Conservation, 142,

Bamford, R. (2007). The impact of


predator control on lapwing Vanellus

vanellus breeding success on wet

grassland nature reserves. Journal of

Applied Ecology, 44, 534-544.

Wind pumps are used to move water around the reserve




Managed realignment –

what’s in a name?

“Managed realignment” is the

uninspiring name for what is a

beautiful and exciting process.

Where a sea defence is no longer

considered viable or desirable, the

option can be taken to abandon the

existing, compromised, line of defence

and create a new line of defence some

distance inland, which is less

demanding in maintenance terms and

Andy Hay (

Redshanks are benefiting from the new creeks and pools

Restoring the Ribble saltmarshes

– managed realignment at Hesketh Out Marsh

The RSPB acquired 180 ha of arable land on the southern

shore of the Ribble estuary in 2006. Over the last three years

the site has been transformed to return it to saltmarsh, after

30 years in arable production. The project involved a

partnership between the RSPB and the Environment Agency,

who have worked together to re-create saltmarsh creeks and

pools. The excavated material has been used to upgrade the

local sea defences, which are now fit to meet the challenges

of rising sea levels and increasingly stormy weather.


less vulnerable to tides or weather.

This gives space back to an expanding

water area, allowing it to generate new

and dynamic habitats for a variety of

wildlife and helping to provide a more

secure sea defence for the future.

At Hesketh Out Marsh, 350 ha of

saltmarsh was embanked by a

private landowner in 1980. This was

the last such reclamation to take

place on the estuary and was the

obvious choice when the RSPB

began to look for opportunities to

restore some of the intertidal

habitat that continues to be lost

around our coasts. Approximately

600 ha of saltmarsh were lost in the

UK between 1992 and 1998 and

current losses are estimated at

100 ha per year (UK Biodiversity

Action Plan).

Re-creating what has

been lost

The scheme, designed by the

consultants Halcrow, involved

re-creating the historical pattern of

creeks shown on old aerial

photographs. Some adjustments

were made to the original pattern to

accommodate practical needs such

as safe access to the outer marshes

for grazing animals and staff.

15 km of creeks and 11 saline lagoons have been created

More than 15 km of creek have been

excavated. Four 100-m-wide

breaches have been made in the old

flood wall, each connecting a newly

excavated creek on the inside of the

site with a major creek on the

outside of the site. Wide breaches

were chosen to ensure that large

volumes of water were not held on

the site for prolonged periods over

high tide series.

In addition, 11 saline lagoons, up to

1.5 m deep and 1 ha in extent, have

been excavated along the inland side

of the site. These lagoons cannot be

said to be entirely natural in the

saltmarsh context, but they more

than justify their inclusion by

providing additional habitat for birds

such as avocet and redshank. Saline

lagoons are themselves a very rare

habitat in the UK, supporting

significant populations of muddwelling

invertebrates and providing

nursery and foraging areas for fish

species. The lagoons offer great

birdwatching opportunities from the

bordering public footpath.

Maintaining drainage and

flood protection

A primary agricultural drain, the

Hundred End Gutter (HEG), flowed

into and out of the site, and a major

new tidal sluice has been constructed

to ensure that the water continues to

drain effectively. To compensate for

the loss of water storage area that

was formerly available to the HEG

within the marsh, a series of onstream

pools have been dug on

neighbouring land owned by Natural

England. This provides a flood storage

function at times when the tidal

sluice is closed by high tides and

strong flows are coming down the

HEG. These pools will also provide a

source of fresh water for other

wildlife, such as water voles.

The Environment Agency have

upgraded 2 km of flood defence bank,

raising the height by over 1 m, the

width by 7 m, and moving 300,000

m 3 of material in the process. Having

the material available on-site has

saved the taxpayer an estimated

Tony Baker


Sefton MBC

We hope large numbers of wigeons will graze at the reserve in winter

David Kjaer (

The land at Hesketh Out Marsh was once intertidal but had been managed as

arable land for 30 years until the restoration project began

Hesketh Out Marsh after the creeks were restored but prior to the breaches

being made in the outer sea wall

£2 million and, perhaps more

importantly, has meant that an

estimated 75,000 lorry journeys

have not had to be made along

narrow country lanes and through

local villages.

Monitoring the changes

Forty-eight locations on the marsh

are being monitored by Edgehill

University, 36 of them within the

managed realignment and 12 on the

adjacent saltmarsh. The rate of

elevation change is being monitored,

together with the colonisation by

new saltmarsh vegetation. Fish and

mud-dwelling invertebrate

populations are being sampled in the

creeks and lagoons. Aerial and fixedpoint

photography will provide a

visual record of the changes, which

are normally most dramatic in the

first three years after breaching.

An eye on the future

Once the site has a cover of

saltmarsh vegetation, cattle grazing

will be introduced to large parts of

the saltmarsh. Grazing will be at low

densities (0.4 livestock units per ha)

to allow the sward to develop and to

provide the tussocky conditions that

favour nesting redshanks. Some

areas will remain ungrazed to

provide floristic diversity and a

habitat for terrestrial invertebrates,

small mammals and the raptors for

which the site is already important.

Large numbers of wintering

waterfowl are also expected to use

the site, particularly two of the

Ribble’s specialities: wigeon and

pink-footed goose.

Thanks to:

The Project was supported by

generous funding from the Lancashire

Rural Recovery Action Plan and Biffa.

The land purchase was part-funded by

Lancaster City Council, who covered

the cost of 52 ha at Hesketh Out

Marsh to compensate for damage

caused to the Morecambe Bay Special

Protection Area in the course of flood

protection works for Morecambe.



Jared Wilson

More than 100 km of moorland drains are being blocked to raise the water table in the blanket bog

Restoring blanket bog at Lake Vyrnwy

At Lake Vyrnwy, an ambitious five-year blanket bog

restoration project is underway. With the help of EC

LIFE-Nature funding, this partnership between the RSPB,

Environment Agency Wales, Countryside Council for Wales,

Forestry Commission Wales and Welsh Assembly

Government is tackling the main threats facing blanket

bog at Lake Vyrnwy and also more widely in the Berwyn

Mountains and Migneint SAC.The project is now providing

a unique opportunity for a replicated multi-scale

experiment to test the effects of management intervention

on ecosystem services provision.

The upland reserve of Lake Vyrnwy

supports some of the best blanket

bog in Wales. This globally scarce and

threatened habitat has been affected

across the UK and beyond by a wide

range of human activities, many of

them detrimental. Attempts to

improve agricultural productivity in the

UK during the post-war periods

included the digging of vast numbers

of moorland drains or grips. Whilst this

has done little to improve upland

farming, these drains have resulted in

significant degradation to blanket bog

habitats. When the water table is

lowered, conditions essential for

blanket bog plants such as sphagnum

mosses are lost. Over time, the drains

may erode out, causing vast areas of

peat to be washed off the hill and

resulting not only in the loss of

farmland but also in poor water quality

downstream and an increased loss of

carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

At Lake Vyrnwy, over 100 km of

moorland drains are being blocked

using peat and heather bale dams,

reinstating the water table to original

levels. The non-native Sitka spruce

trees and rhododendrons that have

been advancing rapidly across the

open moorland are also being

tackled: over 6,000 plants were

removed from 1,800 ha of moorland

during the winter of 2008/9.

The principal objective of the LIFE

project is to restore the blanket bog,

but clearly the project has the

potential to benefit a range of bird

species. The proliferation of wet

habitats created by the drain blocking

and the diversification of the

vegetation and its structure should

increase food supplies for

invertebrate-feeding species. The

Lake Vyrnwy reserve supports a

range of bird species such as

meadow pipit, skylark, red grouse

and black grouse and it is expected

that these birds, amongst others, will

benefit from the restoration.

Increases in pipits and skylarks are

likely to be beneficial to other

residents of the reserve such as

merlins and hen harriers.

Other projects on the reserve include

an extensive programme of heather

cutting, which also benefits many of

our moorland birds (see article in

RSPB Reserves 2007). Additionally, a

project to reverse the decline of

curlews on the site has been running

for the last two years and, with the

valuable help of two tenant farmers,

seems to be paying dividends. The

programme of cutting and baling

moorland grass, digging pools and

undertaking various soil management

techniques in curlew feeding areas

has increased the population within

this small area from two pairs in

2006 to five pairs in 2008.

A range of other benefits may result

from the LIFE project’s large-scale

drain-blocking work. The majority of

the water consumed in the UK has

its source in the uplands. The RSPB

reserve at Lake Vyrnwy, for example,

is on land owned by Severn Trent

Water. Areas that are not degraded

maintain a reliable and clean water

supply, while poor management can

lead to high levels of dissolved

organic carbon entering water

supplies, causing discolouration.

Water companies spend very large

amounts of money removing colour

before supplying water to customers,

so if habitat restoration helps reduce

colour, it may have the potential to

reduce water bills.

Similarly, peatlands in the UK store

vast quantities of carbon that has

been absorbed from the atmosphere

over thousands of years by bog plants

and deposited as peat. Degraded

bogs no longer deposit carbon.

Indeed, the enormous store of carbon

in the peat becomes vulnerable to

oxidation, which can release huge

amounts of carbon dioxide to the

atmosphere, making a significant

contribution to climate change.

Given the potential wider societal

benefits of these ‘ecosystem

services’, it might be in all of our

interests to ensure bog habitats are

healthy. However, there remains too

Black grouse benefit from the extensive programme of heather cutting

at Lake Vyrnwy

Chris Gomersall (






much scientific uncertainty for us yet

to be sure about the magnitude of

the positive effects of our

management. This uncertainty is

being reduced through a major

programme of research with

academics in the UK Population

Biology Network (UKPopNet) and a

range of other stakeholders. The

phased restoration at Lake Vyrnwy,

involving both restored and

unrestored areas, has provided a

world-class research platform to

investigate the impacts of restoration

on these ecosystem services in a

novel landscape-scale experiment.

The LIFE project is carrying out a

wide range of educational and

advocacy work, much of it based at

Lake Vyrnwy. Guided walks take

place throughout the year, local

school groups visit the site and

farmers and landowners are invited

along to discuss the work being

carried out. For more information on

the project and the guided walks

programme, visit the project website


Mark Hamblin (

Extensive areas of blanket bog are being restored at Lake Vyrnwy by

blocking moorland drains and removing non-native trees and shrubs

David Wootton (

Lake Vyrnwy provides a secure site for nesting hen harriers



Damon Bridge


Greylake has been transformed from arable land to a vibrant wetland

The great silver water beetle, one of the many rare ditch invertebrates found at Greylake

Improvements for waders

and ditch invertebrates at Greylake

When the RSPB purchased Greylake nature reserve in the

summer of 2003 the area consisted of 100 ha of arable

land crossed by deep drainage ditches. The reserve is a

small part of an area of low-lying land known as King’s

Sedgemoor, one of the many peat moors that make up part

of the vast 64,000 ha of floodplain that form the Somerset

Levels and Moors.


Restoring the site

Over the last six years we have been

undertaking a process of restoration

to create a mixture of wet grassland,

swamp and fen habitats.

Management for breeding waders

has been the priority, with the added

intention of improving the general

biodiversity of the site and improving

the quality of the ditch flora and

fauna in particular.

Structures have been installed to hold

water levels around 80 cm higher

than before RSPB management

began. A high-level water feed runs all

summer above average field height

and, coupled with the existing

drainage connections to Bridgwater

Bay, allows water levels to be

managed by gravity alone, so there is

no need to pump water anywhere on

the reserve. The reserve functions

just like a bath – but with the taps at

one end and a plug at the other.

All 20 large fields had very few

surface features and no internal

ditches – so 47 new ditches were

planned and created between 2004

and 2008 to re-wet the fields. The

work was carried out using the

RSPB’s rotary ditcher working

alongside local contractors. New

ditches were created 60 m apart

and 60 cm deep. These shallow

ditches complement the existing

system of deep ditches. In addition

a network of over 100 close-spaced

shallow gutters has been created

across the reserve. Some are

isolated and are largely at the mercy

of the weather. Some are joined to

the existing ditches where it is

possible to retain a good level of

control whatever the climatic

conditions. The closest spacing is

around 11 m where they almost

form a ridge and furrow system.




Damon Bridge

was present along with a further

three notable species.

Interestingly, the newer channels

were just as rich in invertebrates as

the older ditches, and had a similarly

high species quality index.

Surprisingly, the scrape and pond

areas were some of the poorer water

bodies in all respects.

Future planned


A small 4-ha “filter treatment”

reedbed is now under construction,

which should lead to further water

quality improvements as nitrate and

phosphate levels are reduced before

the water supply enters the ditch


Further scrape and pool works are

also planned, as even though

invertebrate colonization is slow, they

play a key role in providing feeding

areas for lapwing and redshank chicks.

Work is also in progress, in

collaboration with the drainage board

and the Environment Agency and with

funding from Water Adaptation is

Valuable for Everybody (WAVE),

on a method of linking the reserve to

the surrounding flood plain to increase

the occurrence of winter flooding and

reduce hydrological isolation.

Thanks to:

Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural

England, WAVE (European Regional

Development Funding through

Interreg IVB) and Wyvern Waste.

Richard Revels (

Twenty-six kilometres of new gutters and ditches have been created at Greylake

The new internal ditches and gutters

are managed on a three to five-year

slubbing rotation. Gutter and ditchedge

vegetation is cut much more

frequently to ensure that there is

always a good, shallow, sparsely

vegetated edge for wader chicks to

feed along.

In total, 26,000 m of gutters and

ditches have been created – a

remarkable 52 km of new ditch edge

for creatures that depend on that

habitat. Around 25 pools and scrapes

of various sizes, depths and designs

have also been created since 2004.

Increases in ditch


Prior to any changes in hydrological

management, an initial aquatic

invertebrate survey was carried out,

concentrating mainly on molluscs –

by the late Pat Hill-Cottingham. This

revealed the presence of the rare

snail Valvata macrostoma in the

boundary ditches (not in RSPB

management); and Odontomyia

ornata (a soldier fly), Hydaticus

transversalis (a water beetle) and

Hydrophilius piceus (Great Silver

water beetle) within the reserve.

In 2008, an aquatic invertebrate ditch

survey carried out by Dr Martin Drake

found an incredible 137 aquatic

species and an additional 47 ‘wetland

insects’ in the reserve’s network of

ditches. Sixty of the truly aquatic

species were water beetles (this

exceeds the suggested threshold for

candidate SSSI notification), 20 were

molluscs and 14 were bugs. Of

these, amongst the Coleoptera the

two rare species Hydaticus

transversalis and Hydrophilus piceus

remained and a further 21 notable

species were recorded. Amongst the

Diptera the rare Odontomyia ornata

The hairy dragonfly is one of the many dragonfly and damselfly species found at Greylake




Jodie Randall (

Beyond birds

improving conditions

for wildlife

From Scottish primrose to Sussex emerald, RSPB nature

reserves are home to an amazing variety of plants, animals

and fungi. Our reserves are helping to conserve thousands

of species, and there are some that depend on the RSPB

for their survival in Britain.

We need to take extra care over these species, especially

those that might be damaged by regular habitat

management. Many of these rare species are hard to find

and identify, and little is known about their needs, so we

have been funding research and surveys to find out more

about them. The results have shown that RSPB reserves

are important for many species, and they have revealed

some of the extraordinary diversity of life to be found on

our sites: mysterious fungi that seem to ooze blood,

beetles that make explosions, and flies with rainbowcoloured


The soldier beetle: just one of the many insects found on RSPB reserves

46 RSPB RESERVES 2009 47

David Tipling (

So far, we have records of over

13,300 species. This suggests that at

least one quarter of all the British

land and freshwater species of

plants, animals and fungi are found

on RSPB reserves. More than half of

the species found on RSPB reserves

are insects, almost a quarter are

fungi, and about 12% are plants. The

birds, with 380 species, represent

less than 3%!

Andy Hay (

All the resident native British

RSPB reserves are important for their populations of harvest mice

Conserving our rarest plants and animals

How many species are there on RSPB nature reserves?

Over the last few years we have commissioned surveys of

plants, fungi and animals on our reserves to help inform

habitat management. We have been collating the results

into a database, which now has more than two million

records. There is still some way to go, and new species are

being discovered every year, but by concentrating on the

rare and threatened species we have been able to identify

our most important sites, and the wildlife that the RSPB

has a special responsibility for.


dragonflies, amphibians and reptiles

are found on RSPB reserves, as are

74% of the vascular plants, 93% of

the land mammals and 78% of the

spiders. The total of 31% of the

British insects includes 57% of the

beetles, 31% of the flies and 64% of

the butterflies and moths. This is a lot

of diversity in a small area: RSPB

reserves cover about 0.6% of the

area of Britain.

The number of species recorded at

each site depends on three things:

how many species there are, how

many of these have been discovered

and how many of the discoveries

have been reported. The reserves

with the most species recorded are

Minsmere (5,348) and Abernethy

(4,095). Both these sites have a

range of different habitats, and they

are rich in wildlife. They have also

been well covered by surveys and

volunteer naturalists, and they are

particularly lucky to have been visited

by mycologists, who have discovered

over 1,000 species of fungi at each

site. Minsmere has over 1,000 moths

and butterflies (more than 40% of the

British total). Abernethy has almost a

quarter of Britain's beetle species.

The next richest site overall is

Dungeness, with 2,761 species.

Heath tiger beetles are found at Arne

There are 25 reserves where more

than 1,000 species have been

recorded. These include places that

we would expect to have a high

diversity, like Leighton Moss, Arne and

Ynys-hir. But even modest sites can

have high species totals if they have

been well recorded, so as more data

are captured and new discoveries are

made we expect species lists to grow

at the sites that have fewer records.

A large species list tells us about the

diversity of a site, but it also presents

us with a problem. When you have so

many species on your nature

reserves, how do you make sure that

The hoverfly Syrphus ribesii,

one of over 5,000 species found

at Minsmere

conditions are suitable for them all?

Working out what needs to be done

for each of the 5,000 species on a

site is not practical. However, if we

apply general principles of good

habitat management, such as making

sure there is a good supply of dead

wood in woodlands, and providing

bare sandy areas on heaths, we can

create the right conditions for many

species. Those species that have

more specialised requirements are

the ones we need to take extra care

over. And because they have special

requirements, needing conditions

that are uncommon, they tend to be

rare or threatened.

Will George


The number of species recorded on RSPB nature reserves


Fungi and lichens

Vascular plants


Mosses and liverworts


Other invertebrates

There are over 2,100 rare or scarce

species on RSPB reserves. If we add

in all the declining, threatened and

near threatened species (as defined

by the official Red Lists and the UK

Biodiversity Action Plan), this number

increases to over 2,700 or almost

one third of all these species in

Britain. To identify which of these the

RSPB has a special responsibility for,

we used the best sources of

information available to select those

species that have 20% or more of

their British populations on RSPB

nature reserves. This gave us a list of

304 key species that we need to take

special care of on our reserves.

Numbers of species recorded on RSPB reserves

The end columns show the estimated number of species found in Britain and the percentage of each

group that has been found on RSPB reserves. Introduced species are not included.

Species on British % of British

RSPB reserves species species on



Fungi and lichens 3128 15000 21

Bryophytes Mosses 350 763 46

Liverworts 170 298 57

Charophytes Stoneworts 14 34 41

Vascular plants 1137 1527 74

Molluscs 133 400 33

Worms and leeches 10 730 1

Arachnids Spiders 505 650 78

False scorpions 10 28 36

Green shield-moss was

thought to be almost extinct in

Britain, until a flourishing

population was found at


Stewart Taylor

Mark Gurney (RSPB)

0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000

Each of these key species has been

scored according to its habitat

requirements. Of the 304 species,

187 seem not to have any special

need other than our usual habitat

management at the site. There are

45 species, most of them insects,

spiders or lichens, where we do not

know enough about them to say

what they need, but we have no

reason to suspect that current

conditions are unsuitable. This leaves

72 species that require special

habitat management. Some of these

have similar requirements: there are

13 species that need bare mud left

by fluctuating water levels, 11

species that need sympathetic ditchcleaning

cycles, and another 11 that

need open, disturbed ground. We

have already been creating habitat for

some of these species, but now we

have identified the others that are in

particular need of conservation we

can make sure that RSPB reserves

continue to provide for the wildlife

that most depends on them.

Crustaceans 34 1250 3

Millipedes Millipedes 22 60 37

Centipedes Centipedes 22 55 40

Insects Beetles 2277 4000 57

Bugs 484 1700 28

Lacewings 31 76 41

Dragonflies 45 56 80

Stoneflies 14 33 42

Moths and butterflies 1608 2500 64

Grasshoppers and crickets 23 30 77

Cockroaches 3 3 100

Earwigs 4 4 100

Bees, ants, and wasps 515 7100 7

Mayflies 21 50 42

Alderflies 2 3 67

Caddis flies 78 198 39

Flies 2192 7000 31

Other insects 21 1200 2

Other invertebrates 19

Vertebrates Lampreys and hagfish 3 3 100

Bony fish 47 110 43

Sharks and rays 1 20 5

Amphibians 6 6 100

Reptiles (terrestrial) 6 6 100

Birds 380 580 66

Mammals (terrestrial) 41 44 93

Mammals (marine) 15 27 56

Key species on RSPB

nature reserves

These are the numbers of species in each group

that are estimated to have 20% or more of their

British populations on RSPB nature reserves.


No. of key


Beetles 73

True flies 55

Spiders 49

Moths and Butterflies 35

Lichens 21

Mosses and liverworts 17

Vascular plants 14

Fungi 12

Bees, ants, and wasps 10

Caddis Flies 4

Snails and slugs 3

Stoneworts 2

Lacewings 2

True bugs 2

Sponges 1

Sea anemones 1

RSPB reserves are nationally important for spotted rock-rose

Thanks to:

We would like to thank all the keen naturalists who have helped to gather this

huge set of species data across the RSPB network.

Crustaceans 1

Dragonflies 1

Mammals 1




Stewart Taylor (RSPB)

Until 2008, 17 species of tooth fungi

were known to occur in Britain, 12 of

which had been found at Abernethy.

Recognising a tooth fungus is not too

difficult, but naming some of the

species found at Abernethy is fraught

with problems; one of the most

regularly encountered species,

currently named Hydnellum cf.

scrobiculatum, may not be that

species at all!

Stewart Taylor (RSPB)

Hydnellum cf. scrobiculatum – a tooth fungus found at 55 locations at Abernethy in 2008

In 2006 the first reserve-wide survey

of tooth fungi was carried out by

Mark Gurney, an RSPB ecologist.

Tracks are a much-favoured habitat

for this group and Mark walked about

half of the 80 km of tracks in the

forest during his survey. He found

181 sites, and 11 species of tooth

fungi. The survey was repeated in

2007 and 2008 by Stewart Taylor,

who expanded the search to cover all

the tracks through the forest and

visited many of the old track-side

quarries, another favoured habitat.

The table below gives details of what

was found.

Ideal habitat for tooth fungi – slightly disturbed ground under Scots pine trees

Details of the species recorded during the three years of survey work

Tooth fungus recording at Abernethy

Stalked tooth fungi are a rare group of fungi distinguished

by the teeth or spines on the underside of their caps.

These take the place of the gills on more familiar

mushrooms but they serve exactly the same function.

Tooth fungi are regarded as nitrogen-sensitive and in

decline across Europe as a result of air pollution and

habitat loss.



Species 2006 2007 2008

No. of % of No. of % of No. of % of

sites sites sites sites sites sites

Bankera fuligineoalba 17 14 25 14 122 25

Hydnellum aurantiacum 4 5 3 5 13 3

Hydnellum caeruleum 9 5 5 5 27 5

Hydnellum ferrugineum 1 1 1 1 5 1

Hydnellum peckii 20 31 31 31 150 31

Hydnellum cf. scrobiculatum 14 20 11 20 55 11

Phellodon melaleucus 8 7 7 7 36 7

Phellodon niger 6 9 4 9 19 4

Phellodon tomentosus 15 11 8 11 40 8

Sarcodon glaucopus 9 0 5 0 25 5

Sarcodon squamosus 33 5 14 5 68 14

Total sites* 181 454 560

Minimum No of fruit bodies counted 2,767 3,797

* More than one species of fungus can occur at each site.


Stewart Taylor (RSPB)

Hydnellum ferrugineum – this is one of the commonest

species of tooth fungus in Great Britain

This survey is starting to show the

variation in fruiting of the different

species, which is probably due to wet

and dry summers. We are not aware

of any similar studies that have

covered such a large area and in such

detail. Throughout the whole period

of fungus recording at Abernethy,

Hydnellum ferrugineum, Hydnellum

aurantiacum and Hydnellum

caeruleum have generally been the

rarest species and Hydnellum peckii

the commonest. The increase in the

number of Bankera fuligineoalba sites

in 2008 seems exceptional, and it

was interesting to note the recovery

in the number of sites for Sarcodon

glaucopus and Sarcodon squamosus

after their decline in 2007. This

decline was associated with a

particularly wet summer.

Species new to Britain

During the 2007 survey a tooth fungus

was found that didn’t readily conform

to any of the known reserve or

Scottish species, and a sample was

collected and sent to a team of

experts at Cardiff University. In March

2009 the fungus was identified as

Hydnellum cumulatum, a species new

to Britain. A couple of tooth fungi

collected at Abernethy in 2001 by

visiting expert Gordon Dickson and

posing identification problems, had

also been sent to the Cardiff team.

One turned out to be Hydnellum

cumulatum, whilst the second was

identified as Hydnellum gracilipes, a

species also new to Britain. The

Cardiff team have been working

towards providing an identification

standard for all the UK species of

tooth fungi. Traditional techniques

using field and microscopic characters

are being combined with modern DNA

sequencing to improve identification

and taxonomy of the group.

Abernethy’s semi-natural Scots pine

woodland makes it an ideal site for

tooth fungi, and this is reflected in the

size and variety of the reserve’s

population. In the surveys, most tooth

fungi have been found on the lightly

vegetated verges of tracks, in old

track-side gravel pits and in naturally

disturbed ground along riversides.

Tracks and quarries break through the

natural forest floor cover, possibly

exposing the mycelia, which in turn

may induce fruiting, which may or

may not be beneficial for the fungi

themselves – we don’t yet know for

certain. Fruiting is necessary for

sexual reproduction and spore

production, which are needed to

disperse the fungi, so although

fruiting might not be a sign of a

healthy population, it is necessary if

the fungus is to colonise new areas

within the forest or beyond.

Management at Abernethy is

currently directed towards expanding

the forest out towards the natural

tree line, increasing the forest area

by several thousand hectares. The

trees are wholly dependent on the

symbiotic relationship they have with

the tooth fungi and other woodland

mushrooms to survive, so both

should expand together. The future

for the forest and the tooth fungus

population looks very positive.

Thanks to:

Our biodiversity monitoring at

Abernethy has been part-funded by

the Scottish Forest Alliance and the

Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Phellodon tomentosus

Sarcodon squamosus

Stewart Taylor (RSPB) Stewart Taylor (RSPB)




Malcolm Ausden (RSPB)

A green carpet of Crassula helmsii covering the mud at Ouse Fen

Controlling invasive non-native plants

The RSPB has had a policy for several years for the control of invasive

non-native plant species on reserves. The most invasive and damaging

species are given priority for elimination and other invasive species of

less concern are monitored by staff and controlled where necessary.

However, the situation can change. Many reserves have been

gradually eliminating Rhododendron ponticum, the commonest

rhododendron species naturalised in the UK, over many years. The

discovery that this is the main host of Phytophthora, fungus-like

organisms that can cause catastrophic tree death over large areas,

has given an added urgency to rhododendron elimination.


New Zealand pygmyweed

Several very invasive water plants

have arrived in Britain from

elsewhere in the world and are taking

over our ponds, ditches and

waterways and shading out native

flora and fauna. One of the most

widespread, the New Zealand

pygmyweed, Crassula helmsii, is

particularly difficult to eradicate. We

have been pioneering a new method

of controlling this plant at Old Hall

Marshes on the Essex Coast.

Crassula was first discovered at Old

Hall Marshes in 2000. Isolated plants

at the edges of shallow water bodies

were removed and composted in

plastic sacks. In 2001 the plant was

re-discovered forming a continuous

mat over extensive areas of summer

draw-down grassland. Chemical spottreatment

over five years merely

contained its spread. Experiments

showed that a high level of salinity in

the water was effective in killing the

plant. A field-scale trial over 7–8 ha

was set up, in which the marsh water

was drained off and replaced with

seawater from the adjacent estuary

for 10 months. The seawater was

evacuated and replaced with fresh

water, and subsequently no living

Crassula plant tissue has been

identified. We are now extending the

treatment to some 120 ha, after

careful monitoring, and in close

liaison with Natural England.

Rum cherry

Invasive trees can be a problem, and

one, rum cherry Prunus serotina, has

become a major problem in native

woods on the mainland of Europe.

This highly invasive North American

understorey species currently has a

limited UK distribution but is

spreading rapidly. Our reserve at

Farnham Heath is in the centre of its

current range. When the 164-ha

reserve was acquired in 2002, there

were 20 ha of dense or moderately

dense infestation, and scattered

plants across another 100 ha.

Physical and chemical control

techniques have been used and

mature trees have been ring barked.

Volunteers have dug out saplings and

seedlings with mattocks. Nearly two

hectares of dense coppice re-growth

was cut and then sprayed with

glyphosate. On areas restored to

heath, grazing has been used, as

cattle eat the seedlings.

Rum cherry has now been

effectively controlled at Farnham

Heath after seven years of effort,

and there are now no areas of

infestation, although scattered

seedlings are still found. Continued

surveillance is vital. Boundaries and

former “hot spots” are checked

annually, and seedlings removed.

Pirri-pirri bur

Even some of our best-known

reserves can have problems with

invasive species. A small plant, first

identified at Minsmere in the late

1990s, Pirri-pirri bur Acaena novaezelandiae

has become something of a

control nightmare. It grows mostly on

the light sandy soils around the visitor

centre and the car park and on an

adjacent former arable field that has

been left uncultivated. Like other burbearing

plants, it easily attaches itself

to shoe laces, socks, dogs, etc. At

first we used a smothering technique

with sheets of black plastic, but on a

windy site this was impractical.

Carpet dragging as a means of seed

collection was not very effective

either, as the seed heads have a

tendency to disintegrate into separate

seeds, and you need a lot of old

Floating pennywort quickly

smothers water courses

carpet! We then tried to eradicate it

with a chemical spray, but it is still a

stubborn plant to destroy. The use of

a tractor-mounted boom sprayer on

substantial areas created large bare

patches, on which a sea of common

storks-bill appeared (nice), quickly

followed by a yellow haze of ragwort

– oops! After several years of trial

management we have found that the

most effective way to control its

spread has been to collect the seed

heads by hand. With considerable

areas still to treat, it could be another

5–10 years before we have eliminated

this plant from the reserve.

These three species are only the tip

of the iceberg. There are many other

species that already pose a severe

threat to some of our reserves, such

as floating pennywort and parrot’s

feather in watercourses, shallon on

heathlands and American skunk

cabbage in wet woodlands, and

others pose a potential threat. The

South American water primrose, for

example, is already in the wild in the

UK (where attempts are being made

to eliminate it), but fortunately it has

not reached any of our reserves; and

there are other subtropical species

that are a huge problem elsewhere

in the world and could colonise here

as climate change makes conditions

more suitable. To borrow a phrase

from Thomas Jefferson, the price of

freedom (from hugely damaging

invasive alien plants) is eternal


© Pat Bennett / Alamy




Carol Frost (

Reserves and people

a review of 2008

The growth of the RSPB nature reserve network and the

appeal of the reserves to visitors go hand in hand. As we

have increased the land that we have taken into conservation

management we have, at the same time, extended the

opportunity for people to visit our reserves. Inspired by their

visit, many people go on to provide the moral, financial and

voluntary support necessary to acquire and manage new sites

– a virtuous circle which is good for both people and wildlife!

In the next five years, we will be increasing our efforts to

bring people to our reserves and inspire them about wildlife

and our work. We will increase the promotion of our nature

reserves. Altering the way that we design and manage our

habitats will provide better views of wildlife for visitors. By

harnessing the skills of our staff and volunteers, we will

share our enthusiasm and knowledge to interpret wildlife to

visitors; and we will continue to increase the number of

nature reserves we manage and offering yet more

opportunities for people to visit.

One of our aims is that on leaving an RSPB reserve, visitors

will feel they have had a special and enjoyable time; a high

quality experience, in which they have connected with birds,

other wildlife and the natural environment, and consequently

feel more committed to its conservation.

By 2012, we want to extend opportunities for people to be

connected with nature – our nature reserves will represent

the best manifestation of this ideal, engaging with 2.2

million visits per year.

We aim to inspire people about nature

Our progress towards these objectives during 2008 is

reported in the following chapter.



Andy Hay (

After a successful year, it would be

easy to be complacent. The RSPB is

bucking a national trend that has

seen a steady fall in the number of

people visiting nature reserves or

participating in wildlife-based

activities. With growing demands on

individuals’ time, and the expansion

of urban living, society is becoming

increasingly disconnected from

nature. This trend, if left unchecked,

would have a long-term impact on

understanding of the natural world

and support for conservation. Our

reserve network is spread across the

UK and can play an active and

positive role in reversing the trend.

The year 2007/08 was a record year,

with 1.9 million visits to our nature

reserves: an increase of 200,000 on

the previous year. Seven out of 10

visits took place at the 30 sites with

full facilities. We attracted a wide range

of visitors, with a variety of interests

and needs. Most were adult couples

aged 45 and over, and one in five

parties contained children.

We asked a sample of our visitors

what they thought of their reserve

visit. Nearly all said that we provided

an experience that exceeded their

expectations. As you might expect, we

catered well for birdwatchers and

those with a broader interest in nature,

who appreciate the support and

guidance they receive from our

knowledgeable staff and volunteers.

By buying items in our shops, making

donations, or joining as members,

visitors contributed nearly £2 million to

our conservation work.

Volunteers support our work through

the gift of time. The RSPB has 14,200

volunteers, who collectively contribute

over 9,000 weeks, carrying out roles

as varied as cutting down scrub,

serving tea and leading guided walks.

Our love of nature is formed at an early

age – “show me the boy at seven

years old and I will show you the man”.

We believe that every schoolchild

should have access to a firsthand

experience of nature. Last year over

60,000 schoolchildren took part in one

of 43 field teaching schemes – an

experience that will live in their

memories for a lifetime.

We have acquired a number of sites of

high conservation value that are within

reach of large numbers of people,

including Rainham, on the Greater

London/Essex border and Old Moor, in

South Yorkshire. In 2008/09 the RSPB

opened two new reserves with full

visitor facilities, at Newport Wetlands,

South Wales and at Saltholme, near


Many of our reserves offer guided walks, where local experts share knowledge and enthusiasm about wildlife.

Welcoming visitors

Ben Hall (

We had something for everybody, from the naturalist wanting to

see a water vole to the A level students studying the remains of

an Iron Age hill fort. We helped the family eager to learn about the

bugs under the woodpile and fulfilled one man’s ambition to see a

golden eagle. For many people we simply provided beautiful

places where they could fill their lungs with fresh air, but for

every visitor we guaranteed the opportunity to be inspired by and

connect with nature.


On leaving an RSPB reserve, we hope our visitors will feel they have had a special time.


Andy Hay (

We are constantly seeking innovative

ways to attract new visitors and to

offer something fresh to our existing

visitors. Here are some examples of

the themes that have emerged over

the last year.

Not just birds

Our nature reserves have so much to

offer in addition to birds. Minsmere

and Pulborough Brooks ran events

showing people the rutting deer,

while the Autumn Fair at the North

Kent Marshes reserve featured

countryside food and crafts.

Absolute beginners

We all enjoy learning something new,

especially if it is fun! Belfast Harbour

reserve ran a beginner’s course on bird

identification, and Rye Meads ran

sessions teaching people how to

improve their gardens for wildlife.

Use of technology

While the experience of having a live

encounter with wildlife will always be a

favourite with our visitors, the use of

technology can provide views of

wildlife that is difficult to see at firsthand

and allow people to follow the

progress of wildlife, as well as helping

to promote a site.

• A live CCTV link from Troup Head

RSPB reserve to Macduff Marine

Aquarium beams close-up pictures

of gannets breeding at the UK’s

largest mainland colony.

• The social network site,

Facebook, is being used to

promote RSPB nature reserves,

including Middleton Lakes,

Rainham and Conwy.

• Two osprey chicks that fledged at

Loch Garten were fitted with solarpowered

satellite tags, allowing

people to track their migration on

the web.

National events

By tying in with national events, run by

the RSPB or others, many reserves

have been able to increase the number

of visitors. Many reserves run events

to promote the RSPB’s Big Garden

Birdwatch and Feed the Birds Day.

Loch Gruinart, Mersehead,

Lochwinnoch and Vane Farm gave a

free cup of tea to visitors on St

Andrew’s Day as part of a drive by the

Scottish government to promote

Scottish visitor attractions. The visitor

centres were decorated with Saltire

flags and bunting and staff members

got into the spirit of things by wearing

items of capercaillie tartan clothing.

Lake Vyrnwy and Leighton Moss ran

singles’ walks on Valentine’s Day. At

Leighton Moss only women attended

the walk; they all enjoyed the walk, but

didn’t find love!

We offer a wide-ranging events programme with something for everyone to get stuck into!

Bringing nature closer to people

Carolyn Merrett (

Over 70,000 people took part in our events programme last year.

Some events remain perennial favourites, including tours to hear

nightingales singing or to see roosts of large flocks of waders

and geese, bat walks, pond dipping and family fun days.

The events programme varies with the seasons: here

children are learning about ‘weeds and seeds’.


Wales News Service (

The RSPB’s field teaching

The purpose of our field teaching is to provide a gateway through

which children, young people and school staff can enjoy

memorable, first-hand experiences of the natural world. We aim to

develop an understanding of natural heritage, and a practical and

emotional commitment towards birds, wildlife and the natural


We currently have 43 Living Classroom Schemes. Thirty-three of

these are on our reserves, with the other ten on partnership sites.

During 2008/09 over 60,000 children learnt about wildlife through

our field teaching scheme.

Thornhill Primary School visits RSPB Old Moor


As we pulled up in the car park, the

centre staff, John and Kevin, were

waiting for us.The warm greeting

we received was a complete

contrast to the weather! The

country had experienced the worst

winter snow for 20 years, but that

didn’t seem to matter to the Old

Moor Field Teachers. Leading us to

the centre’s Education Centre, the

staff organised the children with

very little fuss and divided them

into groups.The day began with an

introduction to the area and a quick

session on what habitats are and

how animals are adapted to fit

into them.

The first activity involved looking at

and comparing the wetland,

grassland and woodland on the

reserve. The children enjoyed using

simple scientific equipment to work

out air and ground temperatures, as

well as comparing light levels. The

snow enhanced this experience; as

the children could look at the various

tracks, work out the different types

of animal that had left them behind,

and what each animal could have

been doing. There were tracks of

pheasant, moorhen, rabbit, fox and

possibly even a mink – which might

have been stalking the water voles

(a protected species)!

Before lunch the children had the

opportunity to do some birdwatching.

They started by looking at the birds

that inhabit the gardens, such as

bullfinches, tree sparrows and great

tits. Later the children had a chance to

go into one of the larger hides and

watch the water birds – cormorants,

various ducks, coots and gulls. Old

Moor supplied the binoculars and other

equipment essential for the children to

get the most out of the experience.

In the afternoon the children

embarked on an activity that could

have been difficult to carry out in

what felt like near-Arctic conditions –

pond dipping! Once we had broken

the five centimetres of ice covering

the small, raised pond, the children

were given a lesson on how to pond

dip effectively and then were allowed

to get on. They became increasingly

enthusiastic as they dipped their nets

and brought more and more bug life

out of the freezing waters.

All in all, the day was excellent. Cold?

Yes. Wet? Yes. Fun? Most definitely!

The heavy snow, which had

transformed the ponds and the

surrounding habitats into a landscape

resembling something from the

Arctic circle, did nothing to hamper

the children’s learning or fun. The

RSPB staff made the day interesting

for the children and also educated

me. Would I go back again? Yes, and

with the snow too!

Thornhill schoolchildren were amazed to see

the creatures living under the winter ice

“It was great spotting tracks

and guessing what type of

animal it was.” Amerer

“Thinking about what the

animal was doing was good.”


“It was brilliant to see

different birds.” Hana

“We found out that some birds

have thicker feathers so that

they could stay in the cold

water for longer, and four big

white birds – swans – flew

really close by.” Adreece

“It was amazing to see so

many creatures under the ice.

I didn’t know about most of

those…” Jade

“I learnt that not all the

animals are poisonous.” Maysa

Steve Donnelly


Nick Martin

“Middleton Lakes will be a site

of national conservation

importance offering a great

visitor experience, bringing

programme of survey and monitoring is

delivered and the data are collated and

stored. Understanding which species

are present enables us to plan sensitive

management of the site.

Volunteers are planting 60,000

reed plants to create habitat

for bitterns, bearded tits and

marsh harriers

Two years ago we bought

Middleton Lakes, 160 ha of worked

out quarry in the flood plain of the

River Tame to the North East of

Birmingham. In late 2007, we put

out a press release offering the

opportunity to local supporters to

come and get involved with

restoring the site for wildlife and

people. Sixty people came to an

open evening and since then the

volunteer operation has expanded

and thrived.

What we want to do

The main aims for the wetlands are

freeing the lakes from willow

encroachment and re-profiling the

edges to make them much more

attractive to waders and waterfowl.

We have made a good start on this,

removing 9 ha of willows and

reprofiling 10 ha of lake edge so far.

The grassland will now be reworked

to introduce a series of scrapes and

ditches. Grazing will be established to

ensure that the low-lying grassland

and fringe vegetation provide ample

nesting and foraging sites for

breeding waders. A large area of reed

suitable for a pair of breeding bitterns

will be complemented with extensive

reed spits and islands for feeding.

A series of visitor trails will be laid

out to meander through the various

habitats, with natural vistas

maximising the opportunity for

close-up wildlife views. The intention

wildlife and people closer.”

Volunteering towards the vision – a team

effort at Middleton Lakes


is to make you feel that you are

immersed within the habitat rather

than viewing it from the sidelines.

The reserve will be zoned, so the

further you go from the car park the

more wild the landscape and

experience will become.

Making it happen

With the help of SITA Environmental

Trust we have been able to employ a

biodiversity officer, who has introduced

a large-scale training programme, using

volunteers to gather and input a large

amount of data – on everything from

hydrology to beetles! Experts lead the

training and set up the protocols for the

volunteers to follow, and then volunteer

coordinators ensure that the full

Nick Martin

Conservation volunteers have planted

tens of thousands of reeds to create

the reedbed, cut back huge swathes of

willow and moved almost a hundred

tonnes of gravel to newly created

islands. They have built numerous otter

holts, put up barn owl boxes and

started work on the long list of visitor

facilities we need, such as benches,

steps and signs. To create even greater

capacity, eight volunteers are

undertaking a full training programme

and can lead extra work parties.

Volunteers have played a huge part in

raising the profile of the project and

they have allowed the number of

guided walks, talks and events to

exceed what could be delivered by

staff alone. Volunteers also provide

administrative support, manage the

budget sheets and even write press


Where possible, reed rhizomes are

dug by hand and transplanted

Enthusiastic volunteers help man stalls,

give talks and lead guided walks

Lake edges will be improved for waders and waterfowl, through

regrading and profiling

Young volunteers have been

included in the team, and the

project has benefited from

their enthusiasm and energy

Garry Jones

When Middleton Lakes opens to the

public within the next couple of years

it will be an amazing reserve – full of

thriving and exciting wildlife and a

great place for everyone to discover

and explore; but most of all it will

represent a big team effort.

Thanks to:

The Heritage Lottery Fund

SITA Environmental Trust

Natural England Aggregates Levy

Sustainability Fund

Staffordshire County Council

Allen Cook

Nick Martin

66 The award-winning centre at Newport Wetlands was opened in 2008


Wales News Service (

Newport Wetlands – a stunning

habitat by the Severn estuary

Formed in the year 2000 as compensation for the loss of

mudflats in Cardiff Bay, Newport Wetlands National Nature

Reserve is situated minutes from Newport city centre,

overlooking the Severn estuary. The 439-ha reserve is

owned and managed by the Countryside Council for Wales

(CCW), which has entered into a partnership with Newport

City Council (NCC) and the RSPB to develop the visitor and

education facilities at the site.


Since its conception, the reserve has

established itself as a beautiful home

for some of Wales’s most stunning

wildlife, including bearded tits,

avocets and marsh harriers. A variety

of over-wintering waterfowl and

waders have also made it their home,

not to mention a huge variety of

mammals, invertebrates and plants.

This stunning habitat is in stark

contrast to the historic use of the land

– in the 1950s the site was a dumping

ground for pulverised fuel ash by the

adjacent coal-fired power station.

The reserve is not just about

conservation; it is also about the

people who come here. Education is

at the heart of almost everything we

do, and we have attracted over 3,600

school children to come and use the

reserve as an outdoor classroom since

the centre opened in March 2008.

The school children take part in various

outdoor activities such as pond dipping

at our new and bespoke pond-dipping

platforms. There are also areas within

the immediate environs and nature

walks that children can explore and

learn more about birds and wildlife.

We have recently added a new play

area, which has a Severn estuary

theme and contains a play lighthouse

representing the East Usk lighthouse.

This is one of the most noticeable

landmarks on the reserve. It has now

been joined by a play container ship,

which mirrors the type of ship that

frequently uses the Avonmouth docks

on the other side of the channel. The

lighthouse and container ship are

linked with a zip wire because…well

because children love zip wires!

In addition, a lively programme of

events has been put in place, for

adults and families as well as children.

A number of these events are free of

charge or have a reduced rate for

RSPB members, and they can often

serve as an introduction to a lifelong

interest in nature and conservation.

Events have been aimed at involving

as much of the local community as

possible, and have included a

stargazing night run in conjunction

with the Cardiff Astronomical Society

and watercolour classes.

With the help of our 30 volunteers

we were able to plant nearly 40,000

reeds around the visitor centre in

September 2008. This took just two

back-breaking days to complete!

Once these reeds become

established the original vision of a

building floating on a reedbed will be

realised, reflecting the ecological

sensitivity of the wetlands and the

relationship between the landscape

and use of natural sustainable

materials within the building. Over

time, the building will age and

mature, becoming an integral part of

the landscape. As well as enhancing

the aesthetics of the building, the

reeds will improve the quality of the

water around the visitor centre, and

should, we hope, encourage a

number of birds, including a variety of

warblers, to come close enough to

be visible from the cafe.

Newport Wetlands is conveniently

situated just a short distance from

the M4 corridor, so next time you’re

passing, why not pop in and see it for

yourself? We even have a brand new

bus service, which drops visitors

conveniently at the entrance to the

reserve. The reserve has welcomed

over 32,000 visitors in its first year,

and is a perfect place for those new

Young visitors being shown

around by television wildlife

presenter Iolo Williams

to nature and wildlife experts alike –

you can take part in any of the

events or simply enjoy the wider

nature reserve at your own pace.

Thanks to:

The visitor facilities at Newport

Wetlands could not have been built

without financial help from our

partners and the following

organisations, to whom we are

very grateful for support: the

European Union’s Objective Two

programme, supported by the

Welsh Assembly Government and

secured via the Newport European

Partnership; Newport City Council’s

Landfill Communities Fund; the

Countryside Council for Wales; the

Heritage Lottery Fund; the

Environment Agency Wales; Visit

Wales; Welsh Power; and the

Crown Estate.

Wales News Service (

68 RSPB RESERVES 2009 69

Gwyn Williams

The farmhouse at Mersehead has been transformed into the Sulwath Centre, with

education and conference rooms and accommodation for residential volunteers

Improvements for wildlife and people

in south and west Scotland

The RSPB manages a diverse range of reserves, some of

which are remote and wild while others are oases of

wildlife near urban centres. During 2008 we invested in

improving facilities for visitors at two very different

reserves in Scotland: Mersehead, in a stunning location on

the Solway, and Barons Haugh, a well-used green space

just outside Glasgow. Both sites are managed primarily for

wetland birds, with a focus on enabling our visitors to get

close to and experience the wonders of the wildlife that

inhabits the reserves.




Set next to wide expanses of

intertidal sand/mudflats of the

Solway, Mersehead has impressive

bird populations throughout the year,

including substantial numbers of

wintering wildfowl and breeding

waders. The 1,082-ha reserve is of

international importance for overwintering

barnacle geese, with up to

14,000 birds, half the Svalbard

barnacle goose population, feeding

and roosting on Mersehead.

Waders were represented by only

two pairs of lapwings when the

RSPB took over the management of

Mersehead in 1993. Since then,

extensive wetland creation and wet

grassland management now covering

120 ha of the site has led to dramatic

increases in wader populations, with

up to 70 pairs of breeding lapwings,

20 pairs of oystercatchers, 16 pairs

of redshanks, 24 pairs of snipe and

12 pairs of curlews.

The developing reedbed has created

a new dimension to the reserve, with

up to 6,000 starlings using the site

for roosting in winter. The reeds have

been colonised by breeding reed

warblers and water rails over the last

five years, and there have been

substantial increases in the breeding

populations of sedge warblers and

reed buntings.

A pair of spoonbills created a stir in

2000, when they started building a

nest on the Beck Burn wetland, but

they abandoned the site a month

later. Spoonbills have been regular

visitors to the reserve since then,

and little egrets, marsh harriers and

avocets are among the annual visitors

and potential colonists.

After a successful translocation

project, a breeding colony of natterjack

toads is now established in the dune

pools, and the site is generally rich in

wildlife. Mersehead has over 250

species of plants, including the

nationally scarce lax-flowered sea

lavender and mudwort, 19 species of

mammals and 300 species of

moths/butterflies amongst a myriad of

invertebrate species, with nationally

scarce representatives such as Amara

fulva (a ground beetle), Beris fuscipes

(a soldier fly), Ectemnius ruficornis (a

solitary wasp) and Mecopsithes pensii

(a money spider found nowhere else

in Scotland).

Over the last year the farmhouse on

the reserve has been transformed

into a multifunctional facility. The

Sulwath Centre (Sulwath is Solway’s

historical name) incorporates

education and conference rooms,

group reception and offices on the

ground floor. The whole of the first

floor will provide accommodation for

up to six residential volunteers and

field studies students. The area

around the centre is being developed

into wildlife gardens, with an area of

raised beds providing wheelchair

access to mini-beast safaris and pond

dipping. The centre is powered by

renewable energy, including a wood

pellet boiler and solar thermal panels.

Mersehead is a VisitScotland 4 star

Wildlife Visitor Attraction. Over 27,000

people visit each year to enjoy the

visitor centre, the new Sulwath

Centre, the wetland and coastal trails

and the two birdwatching hides.

Volunteering at Mersehead

Thanks to:

UK Government's Low Carbon

Building Programme and Scottish

Power Green Energy Trust; Leader +

and the European Development

Fund; Sulwath Connections (through

the Heritage Lottery Fund, and

Scottish Natural Heritage); the

Community Environmental Renewal

Scheme managed by Forward

Scotland on behalf of the Scottish

Government; Solway Heritage;

various Scottish Charitable Trusts

including The Robertson Trust,

The Gillman Trusts and Moffat

Charitable Trust.

Kaleel Zibe (


Andy Hay (

meadow, and it seems only right that

this type of habitat should be

re-created here. Scrub has been

removed, water levels have been

raised and shallow-edged pools have

been created for breeding wildfowl

and passage waders. A tilting weir

has also been installed to improve

water-level control.

Nick Chambers

More than a quarter of Scotland’s population live within 30 minutes’ drive of Barons Haugh

We have been working with the local

community to gauge the demand for

a reserve in the area and the

response has been overwhelming.

All seven local schools have already

visited the reserve and are excited

by its potential as a local resource

for environmental education. The

programme of guided walks and

community talks has been well

received and there is a strong feeling

of community support for the reserve

and for the work of the RSPB, which

did not exist before this project

was started.

Pool creation in the wet grassland was made difficult by the wet

ground conditions

Barons Haugh

Barons Haugh is a little-known reserve

just outside Glasgow, nestling snugly

between Hamilton and Motherwell. Its

107 ha encompass a variety of habitats

– ancient semi-natural woodland,

wildflower meadows, parkland, wet

meadow and open water. With over

25% of Scotland’s population within

30 minutes’ drive, the reserve has

huge potential for engaging with

people and providing intimate wildlife

encounters “on your doorstep”.

Key species at Barons Haugh include

the gadwall, sand martin, wigeon,

whooper swan, kingfisher and otter.

The reserve is also one of the few

places in Scotland known to support a

breeding population of comma


The last year has seen dramatic

improvements to the birdwatching

hides, car park and trails. The site

has a history of anti-social behaviour,

so novel planning has been needed

to bring about change. Windows

have been cut in the backs of the

hides so that visitors can get a clear

view in. The insides have been

refurbished and the walls given a

coat of vandal-resistant paint, which

allows easy removal of any paint or

ink. The colour was originally

intended to be natural “olive green”,

but it turned out a decidedly bright

“pea green”, which of course blended

into the surroundings perfectly – and

there was absolutely no chance of

painting over it!

Pioneering interpretation has been

installed. The Mobitour route has nine

posts placed at points of interest, all

having a three-digit code on the top.

As the name suggests, you dial the

local rate number and enter the

three- digit number when prompted

to hear our virtual ranger “Tam” tell

you lots of interesting facts and

stories about the area. The service

works very well, and it will be

interesting to get feedback from

visitors. We can monitor the number

of times it is accessed, so will soon

find out how popular it is.

Extensive work has been done to

create an area of wet grassland on

Barons Haugh itself. The term

“haugh” is a Scots word for flooded

We hope that waders will breed on

the site in the near future and that it

will continue to be a valuable area for

breeding wildfowl such as gadwalls.

The amount of litter and vandalism

has already decreased since the start

of this project. The future will

undoubtedly bring fresh challenges,

but we face them with new hope for

the future of this fantastic reserve.

Thanks to:

Our partners and funders, North

Lanarkshire Council and Scottish

Natural Heritage the Heritage Lottery

Fund (HLF), Historic Scotland, and

Waste and Recycling Environmental

(WREN) and Biffaward through the

Landfill Communities Fund.

Barons Haugh is one of the few

places in Scotland where comma

butterflies breed

Grahame Madge (

72 RSPB RESERVES 2009 73

Nigel Blake

The number of rare vagrant birds found on RSPB reserves in each year since 1950

(bars), and the area of RSPB reserves (red line)






Number of rarities





Area of reserves (km 2 )




1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005

Black lark: not your everyday species on RSPB reserves

Rare birds on RSPB reserves

Each year, hundreds of people visit RSPB reserves to see rare

birds. Some of them come for a species they had long wanted to

see, others hope for the excitement of finding something new

and unexpected. Rare birds are always thrilling, and RSPB

reserves are good places to enjoy these exotic migrants. For our

purposes, we can call “rare” vagrants those species whose

records are collated by the British Birds Rarities Committee

(BBRC). Northern Ireland has its own list of rarities, but the BBRC

species are rare throughout the UK. The list of rare British birds

includes over 250 species, of which 104 have been found on

RSPB reserves.


The rarest of them all, in vagrant

terms, is the indigo bunting. A young

male of this species was found on

Ramsey Island in October 1996, and

this is still the only accepted record of

this bird in Britain. Seven other species

have made their first appearance in

Britain on an RSPB reserve, although

two of them (Audouin’s gull and

trumpeter finch) were first found

nearby and they only later moved to

the reserve. One of the most

celebrated rarities from RSPB reserves

almost belongs to the “firsts”

category. The black lark at South Stack

in 2003 gave about 4,000 people their

first encounter with this species in

Britain, but it also prompted the

re-examination of some notes made

about a bird seen in 1984 in Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire bird was re-identified as

Britain's first black lark, and the South

Stack one became the second. Other

extreme rarities recorded from RSPB

reserves are shown in Table 1.

Very rare birds always attract a

crowd, but one of the strongest

contenders for the title of “Britain's

most-watched bird” is one of our

more frequent vagrants. For almost

12 years, visitors to Titchwell Marsh

could see a resident black-winged

stilt amongst the local oystercatchers

Table 1 Birds from RSPB reserves that have been

recorded on 10 or fewer occasions in Britain since 1950

Species British records RSPB records

Indigo bunting 1 1

Hudsonian godwit 2 1

Black lark 2 1

Grey-tailed tattler 2 1

Siberian blue robin 2 1

Barrow's goldeneye 3 1

Oriental pratincole 3 2

Audouin's gull 4 1

White-tailed lapwing 5 1

White-throated needletail 5 1

Red-necked stint 6 1

Canvasback 7 1

Black scoter 8 2

Slender-billed gull 9 2

Lesser crested tern 9 3

Buff-bellied pipit 10 1


Table 2 Vagrants with more than 20% of their recent British records on RSPB

reserves. Figures relate to the 10 years 1998–2007, and include species with at least

five British records in that period

Species British records RSPB records % British records RSPB records

(Britain) on RSPB reserves (Northern Ireland)

reserves in conserving and creating

this scarce habitat. This is even more

apparent with reedbeds. RSPB

reserves contain about 18% of

Britain’s reedbeds, so it is not

surprising that they have had 22%

of the great reed warblers.

Penduline tit 77 40 52

Mark Gurney

Greater yellowlegs 6 3 50

Little crake 6 3 50

Black-winged stilt 48 19 40

Sociable lapwing 5 2 40

Stilt sandpiper 5 2 40

Red-breasted goose 27 10 37

Least sandpiper 6 2 33

Bufflehead 7 2 29

Forster's tern 7 2 29 1

Long-billed dowitcher 41 12 29 1

Marsh sandpiper 34 10 29

Caspian tern 41 11 27

Glossy ibis 49 12 24

Gull-billed tern 29 7 24

Wilson's phalarope 17 4 24

Great reed warbler 44 10 23

Broad-billed sandpiper 44 9 20 1

Canvasback 5 1 20

Lesser yellowlegs 93 19 20 2

A black-winged stilt was

resident for almost 12 years

at Titchwell Marsh

and avocets. Many tens of thousands

of people saw this bird, and anyone

who has seen a black-winged stilt in

Britain is quite likely to have done so

on an RSPB reserve: almost 40% of

the stilts seen in Britain in the last 10

years 1 for which records are available

have been on RSPB reserves. Rare

waders in general are particularly

well represented on RSPB reserves:

110 have been recorded in the last

10 years, just under 20% of the total

for the whole of Britain. Other wellrepresented

species are glossy ibis,

red-breasted goose, Caspian tern,

gull-billed tern, great reed warbler

and penduline tit (see Table 2). RSPB

reserves have hosted more than one

fifth of all the British records of these

species from the last 10 years. Great

white egret and purple heron would

also feature in this list if they were

still rare vagrants.

These totals are impressive, but can

they tell us something about the

value of RSPB reserves? Wetland

species dominate the list of rarities

that seem particularly fond of RSPB

sites. Pools on popular RSPB

reserves are under almost constant

surveillance by people who are

hoping to find something unusual, so

this might account in part for the high

proportion of sightings. But shallow

pools, with accessible, food-rich

margins, and muddy scrapes are not

common in our countryside, and the

high tallies of rare waders could

reflect the importance of nature

The total of more than half of the

penduline tits is due to several small

parties, some of which have returned

in successive years. But are these

birds vagrants? A group of birds that

winters outside its normal range and

makes return visits is not lost; it is

finding new wintering grounds. Bird

distributions change more than we

might think, and we are receiving

potential colonists all the time. By

providing suitable habitat for these

species, we could be helping birds

expand their ranges and colonise new

areas. This is particularly important at

a time when changes in climate could

force birds to leave parts of their

current ranges, and when wetland

drainage is still a threat to wildlife in

many parts of the world. A few

individuals managing to survive a few

winters is hardly a population, and

predictions that serins and fan-tailed

warblers would become permanent

members of our birdlife have come to

nothing. But it is exciting to think that

we might be seeing the start of

something new, and we should be

prepared for surprises. How many of

those who saw the first Cetti's

warblers, little ringed plovers and

collared doves realised what would

follow those pioneers?

Minsmere owes its existence to one

of those colonising birds, the avocet.

It is also the reserve with the longest

list of rare vagrant species: 43 have

been recorded there since the RSPB

became involved with the site.

Dungeness has 40 species, and

RSPB reserves where rare vagrants have been found.

The size of the square is proportional to the number

of records. The yellow part shows the number of

records since 1998, the orange part shows records

from before 1998

these two reserves are a long way

ahead of the others, but the

comparison is a little unfair because

they have both had over 60 years to

build up their totals. Even so, they

are still top of the table for the last 10

years. Seven other reserves have an

average of at least one rarity a year

during that period. The number of

vagrants on RSPB reserves has

increased in line with the increasing

area of reserves. There was an

average of 36 a year during

1998–2007, which is 10% of all

vagrants found in Britain and Ireland

over that period. The south and east

coast reserves have the most rarities

recorded, but even inland sites have

one or two. Anyone wanting to add a

new bird to the RSPB reserves list

should probably head for one of the

Shetland sites and hope to find a

Pechora pipit. This is the most

frequently recorded vagrant that has

yet to appear on an RSPB reserve.

But the latest addition was one of

the least expected. Britain’s second

glaucous-winged gull (pending

acceptance) was found at the RSPB’s

newest reserve at Saltholme on the

last day of 2008, showing again that

as far as vagrants are concerned,

almost anything is possible.

Thanks to:

We are grateful to the British Birds

Rarities Committee for helping with

the production of this article.


From 1998 to 2007, the year of the latest BBRC report.




Ben Hall (

Working for the


Nature reserves contribute to the environment beyond

their boundaries. They provide environmental benefits such

as absorbing high energy waves to protect property inland.

Some reserves are washlands and receive floodwater at

times of high rainfall, releasing the water more slowly

after the storm has passed. Other reserves are natural

water-harvesting areas for water companies.

As far as possible, our nature reserves are managed to

minimise their carbon footprint and maximise their value

in demonstrating good environmental practice.

Getting the most out of RSPB nature reserves is made

possible with the help of a great many partnerships.

These include statutory bodies, private companies,

farming tenants and other nature conservation NGOs,

to name but a few.

The RSPB works with water companies such as Severn Trent Water at Lake Vyrnwy and United Utilities at


78 RSPB RESERVES 2009 79

Chris Gomersall (

Our new recycling facility has enabled us to reduce by 70% the amount of waste from the shop and tea room

that goes to landfill

Greening waste management at

Pulborough Brooks

Pulborough Brooks is set in the heart of the Arun Valley

in West Sussex. We have recently begun a programme of

heathland creation by conifer clearance at the reserve.

The large amount of felling waste and leaf litter this was

due to create gave us the opportunity to look at how we

can make our operations at the site more sustainable.

In particular, we reviewed our tea room operation that

attracts many tens of thousands of customers per year.


How much waste?

A quick calculation with a local forester

suggested we could generate up to

3,000 m 3 of felling waste per year

(enough to fill an Olympic sized

swimming pool!). Burning this amount

of material would be a waste of

resources, increase our carbon

footprint, and would be a nuisance to

both visitors and neighbours. We

needed to find an alternative.

We also took this opportunity to

review other sources of waste from

the reserve and to investigate

opportunities to reduce, re-use or

re-cycle. The visitor centre, including

the shop and tea room, produced up

to 1,800 litres per week of general

waste and a similar amount of

cardboard and plastic packaging.

Only 10% was being recycled. The

large amount of cardboard and the lack

of on-site facilities for sorting and

processing the waste meant that most

of it was unsuitable for

re-cycling and went to landfill.

Almost 30% of the waste from the tea

room was suitable for composting, but

attempts to compost it along with

green waste from the centre gardens

had failed in the past because of

problems with odour, bio aerosols,

vermin, and leachate.

The solution

We are composting the felling waste

on-site. Felling waste is transported to

a site at the edge of the restoration

area. It is shredded by a 20-tonne

specialist shredding machine, piled up

in rows up to 60 m long, and turned

regularly with a large front loader to

speed up the decomposition process.

We have also started to tackle waste

from the visitor centre. Working at

national and local level with our

suppliers, we have begun to target the

type and amount of packaging used. In

addition, we have begun the

construction of a simple recycling

facility next to the visitor centre to

process its waste. Throughout the

process, the contractors have provided

assistance in gaining the relevant

permissions, in advising on methods

and equipment and ensuring that all

assessments, testing and analysis of

the composts are completed.

The sites for the felling compost and

the recycling facility for the visitor

centre were chosen, with the advice

of the Environment Agency and the

local authority, to minimise any

environmental impacts, to be suitably

positioned to keep haulage of

material to a minimum and to allow

easy access for collection of the

composted or recycled products.

The re-cycling facility at the visitor

centre includes a cardboard compactor

and baler, a crusher for cans and

plastic, and a large scale wormery for

composting green waste from the tea

room. The ability to process the waste

to a more suitable form for recycling

has resulted in a 70% reduction in the

amount going to landfill.

The heathland restoration has

produced and marketed over 300 m 3

of compost and a further 1,100 m 3 are

undergoing the composting process.

The compost has passed all the

industry tests and has been very

successful for growing beans and

peas. The compost has been used to

increase soil organic matter content on

the reserve, and has been sold to

trade buyers and reserve visitors.

Processing waste from habitat

management to produce usable

products is giving us the opportunity to

try new ways of managing habitats,

using more sustainable methods and

is introducing us to new audiences.

Thanks to:

Our funders Defra through the

Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund,

administered by ACRE (through the

COMMA Fund); CEMEX Community

Fund through the Landfill

Communities Fund; South Downs

Joint Committee Sustainable

Development Fund; BIG Lottery Fund’s

Breathing Places and Community

Sustainable Energy programmes.

Open windrows are used to compost the felling waste

Peter Hughes




Alan Leitch

A mosaic cutting pattern at the Tay is used to increase the reedbed

edge, an important habitat for bearded tits

The RSPB and the Tay reedbeds

Surprisingly, perhaps, the largest continuous area of reed in the UK is in Perthshire,

Scotland. Huge tidal reedbeds cover 400 ha between Dundee and Perth alongside

the untamed Tay river, and our reserve here comprises half of this reedbed area

along with 700 ha of mudflats. The whole area is rich in wildlife and as a result is

designated as SSSI, SAC, Ramsar and SPA. The reedbeds are full of sedge warblers

and reed buntings and support significant breeding populations of bearded tits and

water rails. Huge roosts of swallows are present in late summer and whilst much of

the thinking on the subject is in its infancy, the area should be considered a

stepping stone for species such as reed warblers that may have to shift their

range to the north in response to climate change. Other species such as little

egret and spoonbill may in future be attracted to the Tay reedbeds, along with

Cetti’s warblers.


The value of reedbeds, like many

other habitats, depends on

management. They have been

managed for many years by a series

of privately owned, commercial

companies and the RSPB now

continues this management using

the same staff, expertise and

equipment. We use a Seiga reed

harvester to cut about 40 ha of reed

each year. The Seiga is a selfpropelled

amphibious machine with

a 3-m reciprocating cutter at the

front, a 4 m x 3 m cargo deck area

and very low ground pressure. The

same extent of reed is cut each

year. The reed is bundled and taken

off the reedbed, sorted, so that only

straight reed of a certain length

remains, and then bunched. These

bunches are sold primarily as

material for thatching roofs. Several

thousand bunches are sold each

year, helping offset the cost of

running the reserve.

Cutting creates variety within a

reedbed. The removal in late winter

of the previous season’s growth of

reed prevents the build-up of a thatch

of old dead reed and keeps an area

open until the following year’s

growing season. These cut areas

have been shown to be valuable

feeding areas for bearded tits. The

structural contrast between the uncut

and the cut areas provides an edge

where densities of breeding birds

such as sedge and reed warblers

have been shown to be higher. Even

when the reed has grown back,

these areas are noticeably different

from uncut areas – the removal of

previous growth and subsequent lack

of dead reed on the ground allows

feeding insectivores easier access to

the damp ground where there is

much insect life.

A Seiga reed harvester is used to cut and bundle the reed

Our management is slightly

different from that carried out by

the commercial companies but it

is based on the same principles.

Whilst commercial companies tend

to harvest reed in large blocks, as

it is more cost-effective, we cut in

smaller blocks to create a greater

length of edge habitat throughout the

reserve, and we are monitoring the

effect so that we can further refine

what we do.

There is a large market for reed for

thatching within the UK, much of

which is met by imports from

European reedbeds. Whilst our

principle objective on the Tay is to

ensure the reedbeds remain suitable

for their important bird life, we want

to do this in a way which helps to

sustain important small-scale and

locally based industries in East

England and Perthshire. There has

been significant investment in the

creation of new reedbeds in the past

15 years, particularly for bitterns, and

there is a growing resource in the UK

that needs managing. Finding costeffective

techniques and partnerships

to manage our reedbeds effectively

and link supply to demand within the

UK will be an interesting challenge

over the next few years.

Thanks to:

We would like to thank Scottish

Natural Heritage, SITA Trust via Perth

and Kinross Quality of Life Trust, the

Crown Estates through the Marine

Community Fund and the Tay Ringing

Group for their help and support in

managing this reserve.

The Tay reedbeds are important

for breeding bearded tits

Simon Busuttil

Andy Hay (

82 RSPB RESERVES 2009 83

Jacob Wijpkema (

Working internationally

The RSPB is part of the BirdLife International partnership

and works with over 20 countries around the world and

the UK Overseas Territories. Our work involves building the

capacity of other BirdLife Partners to become strong and

independent nature conservation organisations. We also

help them to set up, fundraise for and implement

important projects in their own countries. Often we get

involved with training the staff of our partner

organisations in areas such as project management and

management planning. In three countries, Poland, Sierra

Leone and Indonesia, we are working with our BirdLife

Partners to set up large conservation areas.

Banded pitta: one of the stunning birds found in the Harapan Rainforest in Sumatra

84 RSPB RESERVES 2009 85

Alex Hipkiss (RSPB)

Consultation with communities bordering reserves is critical to the

success of management plans, Jojoima, Sierra Leone.

One of the most obvious challenges communities are often totally reliant

of international working is the

on ecosystem services such as

difference in scale. In March 2008, watershed protection or on wildlife

the RSPB managed 203 nature and other natural products for their

reserves, the largest Abernethy, daily needs. This means that

which covers 14,480 ha. By contrast, management plans need to be

the largest site overseas where the produced in a fully participatory way,

RSPB has provided management with local community representatives

planning advice is Korgalzhyn State forming part of the planning team

Nature Reserve in Kazakhstan, which from the outset, and that social and

covers 326,878 ha – almost two and economic development need to be

a half times the size of all of the given as much importance as nature

RSPB’s reserves put together! conservation. In some cases, the

continuation of traditional practices is

Larger sites require a markedly compatible with the conservation

different kind of management. Most objectives for a site but in many

RSPB reserves are intensively

cases practices need to be modified

managed, as the UK’s countryside or replaced with alternative sources

has been heavily modified by humans of income to reduce threats to key

over the centuries and reserve habitats or species. The management

management often aims to mimic planning process provides a means

traditional land management

for all the values of a site – natural,

practices that are no longer carried social, economic, cultural and

out on a large scale. Additionally, in historical – to be identified, assessed

the UK people do not usually rely on and prioritised in an objective way

the countryside around them. This is and for consensus to be reached on

in stark contrast to the situation at what needs to be achieved to ensure

many sites overseas, where local that both people and wildlife benefit.

Locations where management planning support has been given since 2006

An additional challenge in many

countries is that there is little or no

experience of management planning,

so the RSPB’s projects need to

include an element of training so that

our partners are eventually able to

prepare and implement plans on their

own. Where possible, training

involves staff from government

conservation agencies and NGOs so

that national technical capacity is

increased overall. Such training also

provides an opportunity for partners

to build long-term relationships with

government agencies, increasing

their status and ability to influence

future conservation initiatives.

The final major challenge is securing

funding for the implementation of

management plans. Many of the

countries richest in birds and

biodiversity are those with the

greatest social and environmental

problems and funding for

conservation is usually a very low

priority. Management planning

therefore needs to include activities

International management planning

The RSPB has extensive experience of preparing and

implementing management plans for its nature reserves

throughout the UK and, increasingly, this experience is

being transferred to RSPB-supported BirdLife International

Partners around the world, as more of them become

involved in “on the ground” conservation projects. While

the underlying principles of management planning remain

the same, working internationally presents a unique and

exciting series of challenges.



Lars Lachmann

Harapan Rainforest

RSPB staff offering expertise in wetland management in Biebrza, Poland

We are facilitating a range of training programmes for the staff of

the Harapan Rainforest in Sumatra

directed towards securing funding.

This can range from helping develop

nature-based tourism to assisting

partners in submitting grant

applications to large funding bodies

such as the European Union or the

Global Environment Fund.

Two examples of where innovative

RSPB management planning is

bringing together all these elements

are the Gola Forest in Sierra Leone

and the Harapan Rainforest in

Sumatra. In Gola Forest (74,900 ha)

the RSPB is helping to establish a

trust fund to provide ongoing

development support to the seven

communities living around the

forest and has coordinated a

detailed training programme for

management staff and forest guards

for the soon-to-be-declared National

Park. In Harapan (101,000 ha), in

addition to establishing a trust fund,

the RSPB is working with local

NGOs to raise the legal status and

land tenure rights of local people so

that they have an opportunity and

incentive to invest in small-scale

agricultural and commercial

enterprises rather than being

involved in illegal logging. For large

sites such as these the only way to

ensure the long-term survival of the

forests is to remove the pressure by

giving the local people security and

demonstrating that conserving

species and habitats can deliver

tangible and sustainable benefits.

Finally, management planning

internationally provides RSPB staff

with opportunities to increase their

knowledge and experience, which

assists in developing more effective

conservation in the UK where the

problems – and solutions – facing our

wildlife are increasingly global in


RSPB international management plan input – from

September 2006 (approx chronological order)




Sierra Leone








South Africa

Site name

Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve

Alakol State Nature Reserve

Centre Hills

Gola Forest

Eight sites important for Aquatic Warbler

One site important for Aquatic Warbler

Monavale Vlei

Rdum tal-Madonna

Six small wetlands

Ria de Aveira SPA

Harapan Rainforest

Cata Community Forest

Soweto Wetland



Mark Hamblin (

Thank you to our supporters

Our conservation work on reserves has been made possible

by a large number of people and organisations. We would

like to thank our members, volunteers, individual and

legacy donors, charitable trusts, business supporters,

public bodies, non-governmental organisations, the

statutory sector and government agencies for the support

we have received. A comprehensive list of our funders and

supporters for the financial year 2007/8 and 2008/9 can be

found in the relevant RSPB Annual Review.

Join us

If you would like to support the RSPB in working for a

healthy environment for birds and wildlife to create a

better world for us all, then please contact us at one of

the addresses on the back cover.


UK Headquarters

The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL

Tel: 01767 680551

Northern Ireland Headquarters

Belvoir Park Forest, Belfast BT8 7QT

Tel: 028 9049 1547

Scotland Headquarters

Dunedin House, 25 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh EH4 3TP

Tel: 0131 311 6500

Wales Headquarters

Sutherland House, Castlebridge, Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AB

Tel: 029 2035 3000

The RSPB speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the

problems that threaten our environment. Nature is amazing

– help us keep it that way.



We belong to BirdLife International, the global

partnership of bird conservation organisations.

As a charity, the RSPB is dependent on the goodwill and financial support

of people like you. Please visit or call

01767 680551 to find out more.

Front cover: Eurasian crane by Peter Cairns (

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England & Wales

no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654 120-1865-08-09

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