The hosepipe ban comes in tomorrow, so I thought I would dedicate this week's blogs to the drought. Today, I focus on what we are doing to manage water for wildlife on our land.
As an aside, I spent yesterday at Hope Farm with John Godfrey, the chairman of the the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (and, so I found out, President of Scunthorpe United). It is always good to share our experiences with key figures in the farming sector, to demonstrate how we have managed to triple the numbers of farmland birds whilst maintaining profitability. And it is always good to get fresh perspectives and learn from others.
As ever, we were accompanied by our farm manager, Ian Dillon. Ian has the (enviable) responsibility of ensuring that the farm delivers decent harvests of wheat, beans, oil seed rape as well as delivering more wildlife. He seems to enjoy the pressure but has been fretting about the lack of rainfall. He was clearly a relieved man when, at the end of the day, the rain finally arrived. The change in the weather will doubtless bring cheer to many farmers in the east and south of England, but will, unfortunately, do little to address the drought we are facing - we will need serious rainfall this autumn and winter.
But, it is not just farmers that will feel the effect of the drought. Many site managers of wetland reserves up and down the country will also be feeling the heat.
With great foresight, our reserves ecology team have developed a water management audit for drought vulnerable sites and this is now underway. This will help site managers identify leaking structures like weirs and sluices and indicate where and how water can be moved around a site to optimise the success of breeding waders and other target species. As each site is different, we think that a site-by-site assessment is the best way to come up with tailored plans for each situation. We hope to share this approach with other land managers and the statutory agencies, Natural England and the Environment Agency, to help provide other wetlands with the resilience they need in the face of further drought.
There are a range of things that we can do when to help our sites cope with severe water shortages. We can store water in reedbeds, ditch systems and in shallow floods and scrapes. Some sites have ‘reservoirs’ that double-up as reedbeds – and these are designed to release water into adjoining wet grasslands to help maintain ideal conditions for breeding waders in the event of prolonged dry weather (and up to 18 months of drought).
Site managers are encouraged to eke out what water they have and target it at specific parts of reserves where wader productivity has the chance of being high; and it is a testimony to their hard work that many sites are looking in good condition despite the drought.
I should say that we have welcomed the ‘one-off’ flexibility for wetlands with abstraction licences which may help get water into those sites if water becomes available in the next few months. Most of our reserves that have licences have winter-only licences that stop at the end of March and our wardens are working with local Environment Agency staff to identify previously unused sources of water like that lost from pumped drainage. Sites such as Frampton Marsh are being helped with this, and Elmley now uses water previously lost from Windmill Creek by Environment Agency pumps.
We think that this planned approach will help us deliver what wetland wildlife needs. I have a feeling that this will become a feature of management planning for years to come. But dealing with environmental change is all part of running some of the UK's finest wildlife sites.
Tomorrow I shall outline what we can do to help and offer an agenda for the Government and water companies to follow.
How do you think we should be managing water for wildlife?
It would be great to hear your views.
Phragmites reed and other plants silhouetted, at the edge of a pool. Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve, Lincolnshire
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
All that seems very sound to me and is exactly what our site manager is doing on my local RSPB Otmoor Reserve. One of the large fields on the Reserve has a predator fence around it and this field is being peferentially wetted up to give the lapwings, redshanks, curlew and snipe the best chance of successful breeding.
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