Any visitors to The Swale NNR at the moment can't fail to notice that the largest part of it, the grazing marsh, not only looks very dry and yellow but also as a result, there are pitifully few birds about. Unfortunately with no means of storing water for such events the reserve depends almost 100% on rainwater, which for the second year running has been in very short supply on both the reserve and Sheppey in general. As I have mentioned in previous postings, its a bizarre nature of these marshes that for three months of the winter we have almost too much water and for six months in the summer, very little. What ditches that haven't dried up on the reserve at the moment, have at most an inch or two of muddy water left in them.
The two photos below show the variances in water levels at different times of the year. The first is a typical January scene and the second an August one. I should add that at the moment the ditch either side of that track is about two inches deep and so around three foot lower than the levels seen in winter - that's a lot of rain needed.
The second thing visitors will notice at the moment is that recent excavations have left the reserve looking somewhat unsightly but there is a good reason for this. Across the grazing marsh many new rills have been dug, as per this one.
And large scrapes that flood in winter to become shallow lakes have either been deepened, or in this case, newly dug. In these dry conditions both the scrapes and new rills look quite an eye-sore but imagine them this winter and next spring full of water and with their surroundings green and re-vegetated. Imagine how attractive and beneficial they are going to be for both waders and wildfowl. All of this work will improve the reserve by some degree and throughout a twelve month cycle each year and will at last restore it back to how it used to look in earlier times.
One of the major beneficaries of this work will be both Lapwings and Redshanks. It has become clear over the last couple of years that while really good numbers of Lapwings have bred and hatched chicks, that actual chick fledging numbers have been low, this year for instance just 11 chicks fledged from 62 breeding pairs. Now I'm no expert on these things but even to me it is quite clear that to breed successfully, both Redshanks and Lapwings need two main things, protection from predation, and habitat that provides areas of shallow water with muddy fringes covered in the insect life that they feed on.
To their credit, the management at The Swale NNR have recognised that this year and so as well as intensifying our pest control programme this Spring, the works described above have now taken place and next year we look forward to a successful breeding season on vastly improved habitat.