Water level management at Beckingham is one of the key aspects of our successful wet grassland habitat. It is high water levels that provide the best food source for our breeding birds, with the invertebrates they feed on being pushed up to the surface by the rising water. In winter, the combination of high water next to lush grassland provides ideal conditions for grazing wildfowl, most notably wigeon. Who in turn, also help the breeding lapwings, by grazing the grass into a short sward ideal for lapwing nests.

At this time of year, we would expect the water levels to come up and remain high for the rest of winter and into early spring. We aim for the scrapes to be completely full and the water spilling out onto the surrounding grassland – ‘flashing’. An ideal coverage of ‘flashing’ would be around 30% of our wet grassland field areas.

Water levels on site tend to build up slowly in the first half of the winter before Christmas. We then start to see them really rise from January onwards, creating the conditions described above.

Below is one of our wet grassland fields at the moment, with fabulous high water levels, hundreds of wigeon and a maximum of 800 lapwing wintering here – a most impressive number and the biggest winter flock I have ever seen on site! The image shows the scrapes completely full and the surrounding grassland flooded across a significant portion of the field and the birds certainly do appreciate it!

And here is an example of the great work the wigeon do, grazing our grass into a fine, short sward ready for lapwings to nest on in the spring.

It’s not long now either before we will start to see the first signs of the forthcoming breeding season. Listen out for skylarks singing on warm late winter days – often one of the first signs that things are about to change….