In last week’s blog archaeologist Jill Harden told us about the history of the windpump at our Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve, and the role it once played in managing water. Here warden Lorna Dow takes over the story and tells us how water management continues to play a crucial on the reserve.

Although our aims have changed since the windpump was used, we still manage water on the reserve, but now for wildlife rather than crops.

The wind pump is adjacent to an area we call the Savoch Low Ground and was originally used to drain this area. We still use some of the early drainage features, with some modern additions. The Savoch Low Ground is a vaguely rectangular shape and has a bund around two sides to hold the water in, with a series of sluices that we can use to control the water levels. The sluices are simple wooden boards determining the level of the water, we can easily raise or drop them when we need to.There are also other deep ditches that help water move around and shallower creeks that run through the area. Unless you know where they all are, it can be a challenging area to walk over!

So why do we want this level of control? Due to land use changes, there are now less coastal wetland areas that seasonally flood within the UK. By controlling water in this area of the reserve we can tailor the levels to allow the area to be versatile to different wildlife throughout the year. If you visit in winter, you’ll see the area holding a lot of water. Sometimes this is flooding - the north east Scotland gets plenty of rain! If the Loch is full, the large volume of water gets backed up in the system and it has nowhere to go except the wetland areas around the edge of the loch and around the Savoch Burn system, including the Low Ground. Whether planned or not, we choose to keep the water levels high as they are good for our winter visitors. The ducks, geese and swans that use the reserve like to roost in shallow areas of water, which helps keep the land based predators away. They also use the area to shelter from the weather and to feed in.

During spring and summer when the passage migrant birds use the reserve, we either drop or raise levels, so more muddy edges are exposed – where the tasty invertebrates are at a more accessible level in the mud wading birds.

During the summer we drop the levels lower for a few reasons. The winter flooded areas vegetate up and get green again, providing nesting habitat for different birds. There are still wet muddy areas for feeding adults and young, and it also allows the konik ponies access to more areas, to eat down the rougher vegetation and get the habitat into the varied sward that the birds enjoy.

Photo - Graham Goodall (rspb-images)

If we didn’t have control of the water levels we wouldn’t be able to provide such a wide range of options for different species in a relatively small area. One positive to come out of 2020 was the return of breeding lapwings to the area, the first in over ten years!