Submitted by Dave Blackledge.

RSPB Campfield Marsh has benefitted from two main sources of grant aid recently, and works are in progress to improve wetland areas across the peat bog, farmland and saltmarsh to benefit breeding and migrating wading birds along with a host of other wetland dwellers such as dragonflies and peat bog plants.

Last year a partnership led by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and including RSPB, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and other peatland owners through the north of England won a £5.5 million bid to restore peatlands throughout the region as part of the DEFRA Peat Fund.

The fund aims to restore both upland and lowland peat to help lock carbon into these important habitats to reduce the impact of peat oxidation on climate change and improve conditions for a host of rare plants and wildlife at the same time.

Around £100K of this money is being spent at Campfield Marsh to help produce a patchwork of wetland pools, fen and woodland to support species such as curlew, snipe, dragonflies and the recently colonised marsh fritillary butterfly.

The work will take place where the reserve borders the peat bog to remove the ‘hard edges’ where reclaimed agricultural land bites into the area of peat. When land is drained for agriculture, the peat dries and shrinks, leaving a large step in level up to the peat bog. The work will aim to reduce the gradient of this step and via a series of small low ridges or ‘bunds’ help hold the water at surface level right onto the peaty fields.

Work already completed looking south from Rogersceugh (photo taken from above by drone).

Similarly - work completed looking towards the Wampool estuary.

Over time the high water level will encourage the growth of many different areas, from moss filled pools, reedbeds and fens to willow woods. Re-wetting the peat stops the release of carbon into the atmosphere, helping control greenhouse gas emissions and its effects on climate change. However, a more immediately visible effect is the range of species which will move in to take advantage of these new habitats. Campfield Marsh remains the only RSPB reserve on the UK mainland to support breeding marsh fritillary butterflies which will benefit from the provision of more suitable areas where their larval food-plant, devil’s bit scabious, will grow. The wet areas will also provide ideal breeding pools for a range of dragonfly species and other invertebrates.  

These bog edges are important feeding sites for snipe and the rapidly declining curlew, while other less common species such as grasshopper warbler and water rail enjoy the cover of dense vegetation brought about by the reduction in cattle grazing. Our graziers now also use Belted Galloway cattle throughout the peat edge wetlands, a hardy breed which are quite at home munching rushes while up to their bellies in water.   Willow tits too, will benefit from the development of wet willow woods on the outer reaches of the peat.

Belted Galloway cattle grazing the wet farmland.

The second major boost to the site has been the signing of a new countryside stewardship scheme to install a new wetland system across the farmland at North Plain. A £300K capital works programme will create a series of pools carrying water from the peat bog down to the saltmarsh providing ideal nesting opportunities for lapwing and redshank. A series of sluices will allow the farmland to be flooded and drained when required. Drying of the fields is an important part of the management cycle, allowing rushes to be controlled and soil invertebrate populations to recover, before re-flooding attracts breeding and migrating wading birds to the site. The ability to rotate the wet and dry areas around the farm will ensure that there is always some land in prime condition for wetland plants and animals. This work will be starting towards the end of July this year and continuing through the autumn onto the saltmarsh where further wet features and viewing opportunities should enhance a visit to Campfield.