Bowers Marsh is opening to the public this Saturday, our newest addition to the South Essex reserves. Thanks to funding from Essex County Council, Veolia Ltd, Veolia North Thames Trust, Parklands South Essex and the Homes and Communities Agency, around 260ha of wetland habitats have been created, with saline and freshwater lagoons, scrapes, ditches, reedbed and areas of wet grassland. Several km of new paths have also been laid, to allow easy access around the many new habitats, so why not come down and see what’s about.
As winter approaches, expect to see increasing numbers of waders and wildfowl, such as lapwing, curlew, black-tailed godwits, teal, wigeon and shoveler. If you’re lucky, you may even see a marsh harrier or short-eared owl silently hunting over the reserve. Remember to check the reedbed areas too, bearded tits can be found here during the winter, as well as elusive water rail scurrying along the reed edges.
There are also areas of arable land and hedgerows on the reserve, perfect for attracting large winter flocks of corn buntings, listen out for them calling, it is said to sound like someone ‘jangling some keys’.
The reserve has been created with all nature in mind, many of the ditches on the reserve have been profiled to attract water voles, so keep a look out for their burrows and listen out for the distinctive ‘plop’ as one jumps in to the ditch. You may even catch a glimpse of one swimming along in the water!
To celebrate the opening of the reserve, we are holding an ‘Autumn Extravaganza’. This is a fantastic opportunity for the whole family to come and experience this reserve for the first time; it will be running on Tuesday 29th and Wednesday 30th October between 10 am and 4pm. Visitors will be able to bring their families along to discover this exciting new nature reserve and the amazing wildlife it is now home to. There will be drop in sessions with a range of activities running throughout the day.
For more information visit the RSPB Visitor Centre in Wat Tyler Country Park, call us on 01268 498620 or visit the Bowers Marsh webpage www.rspb.org.uk/bowersmarsh
Michael Poole - Assistant Warden
On a recent visit to Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve we noticed something amazing – water voles have colonised the reserve! These secretive creatures had been previously un-recorded on the site, but our survey showed they are aplenty, with more than 25 feeding stations, around the same number of latrines and at least 4 burrows along the ditch.
Since the 1970s water voles have suffered a 90% decline, with only around 200,000 remaining in the UK. This has been a result of habitat loss and the accidental release of American mink, a voracious predator of water voles. But things are looking up. Together we have created many huge areas of wetland perfect for these much loved creatures, and in many cases they are gaining in numbers.
As water voles are so secretive, the best way to look for them is actually to look for their signs – feeding stations, latrines and burrows. Water voles like large areas of wetland with interconnected ditches with steep, vegetated sides. They feed in a few select places along the waters edge, leaving behind piles of overlapping reed, sedge and grass stems cut off at a characteristic 45 degree angle. They also use regular latrines, a short distance from feeding stations and burrows, which they use to mark out their territory.
Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve is a relatively new reserve built to replace habitat lost during the construction of the container port at Stanford-le-Hope. Together with DP World we’ve created thousands of homes for nature for the likes of passage and wintering waders and wildfowl on the mudflats, a huge range of invertebrates such as crickets and grasshoppers in the wildflower meadow, and now it’s great to see we’ve given water voles a home too.
Water Vole - by David Lee
Can you see the resemblance between the water vole seen here and Ratty from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows? Keep your eyes peeled when you’re next walking around RSPB West Canvey Marshes – you may be lucky enough to see Ratty feeding on our feeding platform in the ditch behind the playground. You’re less likely to see Mr Toad driving along in his car...
Gareth Brookfield - Assistant Warden, South Essex
August was quite a dry warm month in Essex, although, a bit to our surprise, there were still some lovely areas lying wet. This combined with the warm weather made it a good spell for dragonflies and damselflies. We normally let the water levels evaporate naturally as well as allowing our wind pumps on Bowers Marsh and West Canvey Marshes to help lower the water levels in the reservoir. This water is pumped out and keeps the ditches topped up through the dryer months – our water voles like it that way!
Aerial photo of Bowers Marsh
This lowering of the water levels across the site in late summer should provide good conditions for Autumn’s passage migrant birds, however during the first half of September we had some torrential rain and this has topped the reserves up a bit. As a result, it is unlikely the freshwater lagoon on Vange Marsh will dry out this year as was planned in order for us to manage the vegetation, so it looks like the reserve team will be donning the waders once more!
They wouldn’t have it any other way…
Steven Roach – Warden, South Essex