Main image: Before and after - creation of a new pool at Seasalter Levels, Credit: Audrey Jost

Wetlands are amazing places that are home to an incredible number of wildlife species. But threats to these special sites such as lack of management, pressures on land use and climate change have all had an impact. To address this, we work with partners on a number of projects to restore or create more of this precious habitat. 

Wetland restoration at Seasalter Levels

There’s an emerging green oasis as you look across Seasalter’s landscape bound by the sea wall and agricultural land; this is Seasalter Levels, the RSPB’s newest wetland restoration site in North Kent.  

This part of Kent is often described as the sunniest place in England, but the flip side is it is also one of the driest, great if you’re heading for a seaside holiday, not so great if you’re a wading bird, such as the globally threatened curlew, a bird that travels south to spend its winter here. 

Climate change is one of the biggest risks to wildlife and providing climate resilient sanctuaries is vital to the survival of many species. Seasalter Levels is a coastal grazing marsh, a wetland, but large parts had been left derelict for decades and suffered from a lack of appropriate land management with a distinct absence of wildlife before the RSPB and Canterbury City Council joined forces to purchase and restore it. 

With funding from Defra’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund and the EU’s “Life On The Edge” fund, a major restoration effort started in 2021 to develop a wetland nature reserve that benefits wildlife and local people.  

Creation of a new channel at Seasalter LevelsThe restoration plan included habitat improvements that will create a reserve well managed for nature, that is resilient to climate change and provides a stepping-stone for species that are predicted to shift where they live due to the changing climate.  

One of the main aims is to keep water on the reserve for as long as possible. Shallow channels were created with muddy pools and banks that will provide plenty of essential invertebrate food for flightless chicks and embankments surround the site to prevent the water draining away.  

Image left: creating new channels at Seasalter Levels, Credit: Audrey Jost

By the end of March this year when work is completed, Seasalter Levels will provide a sanctuary for breeding and wintering wildfowl and waders, water voles and rare invertebrates and flora. Then all that needs to be done is sit back and watch nature take over. A significant part of this phase of the Seasalter programme took place on an area called Alberta. This land was acquired thanks to a grant made possible by the FCC Community Action Fund (then called Wren) through the Landfill Community Fund in 2014.  

New funding to secure a brighter future for wildlife across the Greater Thames Estuary

While the current phase of habitat restoration work at Seasalter Levels is coming to an end, a new landscape-scale project to restore 1,800 hectares of wetland habitat across the Greater Thames Estuary is just beginning. 

The estuary is one of the most important wetland habitats in Europe, home to birds including lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank and wigeon, as well as other animals like water voles and scarce emerald damselflies. One of the features that makes this area so special is its coastal and floodplain grazing marsh. However, this habitat has declined across the estuary by over half since the 1930s due to land drainage, development and conversion to arable farming. 

RSPB Cliffe Pools, Rochester, KentThanks to new funding of more than £1.8m, habitat restoration work is about to begin across 24 sites around the estuary. Wetland areas will be made bigger, better and more joined up, as well as future-proofed to ensure they are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, creating brilliant homes for breeding and wintering birds.  

The project is being funded by the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund was developed by Defra and is being administered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

Above image: RSPB Cliffe Pools, Rochester, Kent

Making better homes for nature

Over the next 18 months the RSPB will work in partnership with organisations including Essex Wildlife Trust, Elmley National Nature Reserve, Kent Wildfowling & Conservation Association, Kent Wildlife Trust and several farmers. 

New fencing at RSPB South Essex MarshesNew fencing will allow grazing cattle and sheep to be more easily managed so grass can be kept in perfect condition for ground-nesting waders like lapwing, oystercatcher and redshank. It will also help protect these birds from predators such as foxes. Scrub, rush and willow will be removed in some areas to make more room for ground nesting birds, and 30 new islands will be created to provide additional breeding habitat.

Image right: New fencing at RSPB South Essex Marshes

To mitigate the impact of drier springs and summers on the landscape, storage features will be created to collect water during the winter months. A network of 29 smart solar pumps will allow freshwater to be moved around during the breeding season (March to July), to increase the amount of surface water available. As well as providing a sustainable solution to managing water levels in line with rainfall, the solar pumps will feature technology that allows them to be adjusted remotely to limit disturbance to nature. 

Engaging with local communities

The project team will work closely with communities along the Thames Estuary to encourage more people to connect with nature and the local environment. Paid traineeships will be created as part of the Greener Thames Youth Programme, giving young people from underrepresented backgrounds new opportunities to get involved in nature conservation, as well as the skills to positively impact wildlife and habitats across Kent, Essex and beyond.

Community events will be held to better understand the challenges facing younger generations within conservation. A Youth Advisory Panel will also be set up to find innovative ways to break down these barriers, encourage greater engagement with nature, and inspire a new generation to become guardians of the area’s wildlife and habitats. 

Share your love for wetland birds and these vital habitats

What do you most love about the RSPB’s wetland reserves? What are your favourite species to spot on a #WinterWetlands walk? We’d love to hear all about your experiences – get in touch on social media using the hashtag #WinterWetlands and remember to tag @RSPBEngland 

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