Each year, on or around March 13th, I take a flight in a small microlight aircraft, called a Flexwing, over the Thames Estuary; I have just completed that flight.
This is the fourth year on the trot that I have enjoyed a bird's perspective of the North Kent marshes, and it is really only from 1,000ft that one can appreciate fully the incredible work of the RSPB's volunteers and staff.
The nature reserves are dramatically crafted landscapes to meet the needs of winter wildfowl and waders and, this spring, endangered breeding birds like the lapwing, redshank, marsh harrier and yellow wagtail.
We use ditches to shift large volumes of water around our sites, but also to store in them as reservoirs. We then create shallow scrapes and floods (just a few centimeters) for the natural rainfall to settle in, and when that is dried out by the wind, replenished from our reservoirs using pumps. To increase the habitat that waders can forage along you will notice lots of scalloped, worm-like shapes in the terrain, creating lots of edges for birds to stalk along, birds like avocet, godwits, sandpipers, and plovers. In the spring, wader chicks will feed along the muddy beaches left as the water recedes. Meanwhile, out on the deeper (2-3m) pools, ducks such as goldeneye, tufted ducks and gargany teal, numerous grebes and coot, feed on marine invertebrates, algae and fish. Cliffe Pools is a little different because it comprises saline lagoons with its own special and protected marine fauna. One element runs true for all, we try to offer a variety of habitat, a kind of mosaic that suits biodiversity.
From the air you can see the variety of habitat created, islands, causeways, meadows, rough grass, open water, ditches, reed fleets etc.
To increase the potential of RSPB Cliffe Pools we are seeking planning permission to bring further material into the southern lagoons, which will be shaped to suit the birds across the seasons.
It isa pattern of land and water management being repeated across the Thames Estuary by the RSPB and others (Wildlife Trust, Elmley Conservation Trust), to create a joined-up landscape for birds and other wildlife. The Thames Estuary is a vital stepping stone along the Great East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory route used by 90 million birds each year.
I have seen magnificent strides towards this landscape scale conservation in just a few short years, it is good news for nature and good news for us, in light of some big challenges in nature conservation. So, take heart, things are looking up.
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