I attended the monthly meeting of Eastchurch Parish Council last night, nothing too exciting about that unless of course you were interested in high street parking and Mrs. So and So's scruffy garden. But what I and several local farmers and other assorted people were there for was a presentation after the council business, given by the Environment Agency and the RSPB.
Some months ago the Environment Agency (EA) bought Great Bells Farm, which lies between Eastchurch Prison and Windmill Creek on Sheppey. Great Bells Farm is 193 hectares of currently poor grazing marsh seperated from the RSPB's Elmley reserve by Windmill Creek. Freshwater and intertidal wildlife habitats are being lost around the coast due to rising sea levels and EA's actions to reduce flood risk to people and properties. Under European law EA have to compensate for that loss and therefore took the opportunity to buy this site.
Their thinking behind this is to use the farmland to create a wetland habitat for a variety of freshwater species of birds, animals and insects and to possibly use a section at the southern end, which borders the tidal entrance of Windmill Creek, to create a small area of intertidal habitat. This would be achieved by realigning the the current sea defences, i.e. move the seawall back and allow that part of the farmland to become saltings and tidal. Currently that operation does not look like happening due to the cost and it could instead be used to create a freshwater reservoir used to replenish the water levels acroos the reserve in the dryer summer months. At the moment therefore it looks as if the whole site, which is currently very dry grazing marsh, will be re-profiled and considerably wettened up in order to attract the variety of wildlife that it has the potential to do.
This is great news and to effect these changes EA has appointed the RSPB as their tenant managers and between them they intend turning the site into yet another important nature reserve along the southern side of Sheppey and will have the effect of extending the huge Elmley nature reserve complex into the Eastchurch marshes, seperated purely by Windmill Creek. They have some exciting plans for the site which will include new ditches and reelways, higher water tables and part flooding in winter and hay meadows in summer. They intend for it to be accessible to the public once access routes can be made established and even now it is accessible on foot via a public footpath that goes across the Elmley RSPB reserve, across Windmill Creek dam and through Great Bells Farm.
One day perhaps, we could finaly see this huge complex link up with The Swale NNR, which is not that far away now, and have the whole of southern Sheppey,from the Sheppey Way to Shellness as nature reserve, wouldn't that be fantastic!