You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
10 days into our Crowdfunder appeal to rebuild Snettisham's lost hides, wildlife writer and photographer James Lowen shares his memories of his first visit to the reserve and the wildlife he experienced there:
The eastern sky has started to glimmer hopefully, but I am directing eyes and ears westwards. It is November, and – here on The Wash – it is very nearly showtime.
For the first ten minutes, the assembled crowd (and we are quite some grouping: perhaps 100 huddled shapes, all told) strains for either sight or sound.
We hear before we see.
A muffled chorus metamorphoses into a cacophony of cackling as the first skein of geese departs its estuarine roost and wings overhead to graze inland. A second game of 'follow-my-leader' – this one with more participants – hurries through. Thirty seconds later, a flock of a thousand birds arrows the sky.
And so successive ‘v’s of ganders continue until some 30,000 pink-footed geese have awoken and absented themselves. A procession both remarkable in itself and for being merely the entrée to the morning experience at RSPB Snettisham.
Sited on the northern side of Norfolk’s share of the Wash Estuary, Snettisham is justifiably famous for its high-tide shorebird spectacle. Particularly on a spring tide, incoming salty waters smother muddy feeding grounds before inundating the saltmarsh, depriving tens of thousands of waders of safe, dry terrain on which to roost.
And so the air starts to bulge with birds and their cries.
Oystercatchers take to the skies, straggling piebald flocks with carrots for bills, bleating hysterically. Searing overhead, curlews bubble away. Turnstones quip, dunlins wheeze and redshanks yelp. Best of all, knot fly up en masse and billow through the air, alternately flashing silver and white to bewilder would-be predators. Knot rarely call, but nor are they silent. Their wings do the talking as they whoosh astonishingly low over our scalps.
The feathered whirls fret over the adjacent gravel pit, demanding reassurance that the coast is clear before pitching down, legs extended. Once on dry land, each species keeps to its own. Knot take the lower shingle, oystercatcher linger higher up the bank, dunlin are relegated to the island.
The knot in particular cram so close together that 20,000 birds merge into molten mercury. The oystercatcher, hunched and sullen, bring to mind a conference of Parisian brasserie waiters. The dunlin bicker. After a few jittery flits and the odd commuter-like surge, the gathering settles down for some shut-eye.
The air stills. We – the privileged audience – come back down to earth, and breathe normally again. Some people depart, sated. I stay, craving more.
I home in on individual birds and watch them for minutes. Most are motionless, eyes closed. Some jolt awake and shuffle. Others fidget, changing their standing leg. Yet others open an eye, confirm all is well, and return to the Land of Nod.
After an hour or so, the tide abates and the waders return to their salty restaurant. Their departure is straggling, with none of the emphatic urgency of their arrival. It takes me some time to realise that every single bird has vanished. The curtain has fallen on Snettisham’s show. My own breakfast beckons.
James Lowen is an author and photographer specialising in wildlife travel. He writes regularly for Nature's Home magazine, and his latest book – A Summer of British Wildlife – won UK Travel Guide Book of the Year 2016. Read more of Jame's writing and see his photos here: www.jameslowen.com
Find out more about Snettisham and our #SnettsHide Crowdfunder appeal: crowdfunder.co.uk/snettishamhide
Author: Emily Kench. This item originally appeared in the July edition of Let's Talk magazine.
Snettisham is special. As the sun rises and sets, it touches vast mudflats that divide the sea and inland lagoons. When the sea rolls in on a high-tide, the mudflats disappear – blink and you’ll miss it – the tide doesn’t hang around in north Norfolk.
As the silt is submerged, whirling waders abandon their feast of worms and cockles and take to the skies. Spinning overhead, trying to make hasty decisions between dipping in for a last bite or heading to drier land, groups of knot, avocet and bar-tailed godwit spiral between the two.
Back in December 2013, the waders of The Wash probably didn’t have a lot of time to think about a final bite. A spring tide coupled with a storm surge tearing down the North Sea, and backed by the wind, left this wonderful home for wildlife a little-worse-for-wear. The tide tumbled in breaching the shingle bank and seawater forced its way into the lagoons. At their fullest extent, the depth of the water was over 12 feet higher than normal.
The scenes were bleak. Boardwalks were washed away, two of the lagoon’s islands were lost and three out of four hides on the reserve became unusable. Yet, the storm surge hadn’t just impacted Snettisham, other important RSPB nature reserves Titchwell, Minsmere, North Warren, Dingle Marshes, Strumpshaw Fen and Havergate Island had also bared the brunt.
In light of the devastation, the RSPB launched an appeal - and using money generously donated by supporters - were able to utilise these funds where they were most urgently needed: protecting wildlife. Dedicated volunteers and partners worked hard to repair the damage to the reserve’s habitats, and in time nature once again flourished.
Yet the reserve is not just special for wildlife, it is also incredibly special for its visitors. Whilst the homes of wildlife residents were quickly restored, visitors to The Wash have had to be slightly more patient, but four years later, and that is about to change.
How can you help?
The RSPB now wants to replace the destroyed hides with a single new building which will be bigger and better, stand-up to future storm surges and help to inspire a whole new generation of nature lovers with the sights and sounds of The Wash. On Monday 10 July, the RSPB launched a special 28 day Crowdfunding campaign to help raise the funds needed.
In exchange for pledging money to the Crowdfunding appeal, the RSPB will be offering ‘money can’t buy’ rewards which include some fantastic products and experiences, many of which have been donated by local businesses, artists, photographers and volunteers. The RSPB hopes that these rewards will inspire people to donate and together we can build a hide that offers unparalleled views of the wildlife of The Wash. This will be a building that inspires not only those who love Snettisham already, but a whole new generation of nature lovers and future wildlife champions.
To find out more visit: crowdfunder.co.uk/snettishamhide or call: 01485 545263
Follow the Crowdfunding progress on Twitter and Facebook by searching #SnettsHide