Imagine looking out of your window in the morning, cup of tea in hand, to see a young redshank, paddling in the low water. It’s scampering back and forth whilst probing repeatedly beneath the waterline, under the watchful eye the adults. A curlew then catches your eye flying low over the redshank group, and then off to the west, taking with it echoes of it’s bubbling call. As the pink, morning light reflects off the still water, a small flock of birds land in a swirl of feathers and feet. This is our vision for the future of the Seasalter Levels.
Ground was broken in September 2021 in a huge step toward achieving this vision as part of funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund and the EU LIFE project. The restoration of the Seasalter Levels Nature Reserve is part of a wider project being delivered this year across several local nature reserves in Kent (including Blean Woods and Wraik Hill) in partnership with Kent Wildlife Trust and Canterbury City Council.
A lapwing with chick at RSPB Oronsay.
“We are all absolutely delighted to have received this funding, and with it, be able to restore nature across a large part of north Kent. It is these landscape scale projects that are crucial if we are going to deliver the UK’s ambitions for 30% of land protected by 2030.”
Alan Johnson, RSPB Area Manager Kent & Essex
Why is it needed?
You may have noticed over the past few years that the Levels have been dry, particularly during the spring, when the grazing marsh should be wet. The presence of water over this period in particular, is vital to the survival of chicks, who are flightless in their early lives, and likely to starve if the ground dries up. Unlike their parents, they cannot simply leave for wetter pastures.
A birds-eye view of Seasalter Levels in March 2020, where there is almost no water remaining across the grazing marsh.
A month later – In April – the Seasalter Levels are completely dry, despite it being the height of the breeding season.
The contractors working on the site today are creating new features designed to; a) capture water within the site and, b) introduce new features to maximise feeding and breeding spaces for wildlife. For example, you can see low, long mounds being created around the field edges which are designed to hold water within the site. In addition, if you look toward the centre, you will notice the outlines of new channels, islands and pools being made. These are being introduced to create the variety of terrain needed for feeding and breeding wading birds, like the redshank.
In other areas, we are desilting and reshaping the existing ditches. We are doing this to revitalise the waterways and banks for water voles and other freshwater flora and fauna. We ensure we only do this along one side, so that there is continuous habitat available on the opposite bank for the wildlife which is already present to take refuge. The untouched banks also provide the best seed source for plants to recolonise the bare soil of the new bank.
Creation of a new channel on the Seasalter Levels – perfect for wading birds to feed in.
A really key part of this strategy is the careful management of the grassland itself. To ensure it is suitable for breeding birds, the grass can’t be too high across the site. Redshanks, like a mixture of short grass alongside clumps of longer grass. Due to the way that they graze, we use carefully managed numbers of cattle to keep the grass at the optimum level for birds birds and other grassland wildlife. Therefore, a major element of the works over the winter includes the installation of new fences to make the site safe for livestock, and to allow us to control numbers of cattle grazing each area of the site.
How long will it take?
All of the works are being carried out over the autumn and winter period in order to avoid the bird breeding season and are expected to last only 6 months. This should allow for some recovery of the ground over early spring, and just in time for the breeding season. Like a newly landscaped garden, it will take a few years to bed in fully. But upon completion, you can expect to see a complete transformation of the Seasalter Levels into a wetland haven for wildlife. A place where you can look forward to enjoying the looping flights of lapwing, redshank scampering along the water’s edge, and the soothing calls of the curlew, all whilst you enjoy your morning coffee.
For any queries regarding the works at Seasalter please contact the Project Manager, Victoria Mander via email at email@example.com
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