This story begins back in 1986 when the very first piece of the Burton Mere Wetlands puzzle began with the purchase of 75 acres of low-lying, waterlogged arable fields at Inner Marsh Farm, historically reclaimed from the tidal estuary by the development of the Borderlands railway.
In 1988, the purchase of Burton Point Farm gave better access and became the reserve's operational hub, but the small team at that time still had a long road ahead to create the desired wetland habitats to complement the vast tidal areas of the estuary. To start with, there was the huge task of excavating three shallow pools and then overcoming several years of obstacles to gain planning permission for any visitor access and viewing facilities. Back then, only 12 cars were allowed at a time, along with access strictly for RSPB members only.
Border Pool and wet grassland (A.Grubb)
The original hope was to have a hide at each of the three pools, however approval was only granted for one, meaning the location of Inner Marsh Farm hide was carefully considered before its construction and opening in the summer of 1992. The central spot it ended up in meant if offered some view of Bridge Pool and Border Pool, although distant, but superb views directly over Centenary Pool. The naming of this pool owes to it being created in the centenary year of the RSPB, which was founded back in 1889 by a group of brave, outspoken women in Manchester led by Emily Williamson who decided to take action against the popular trade in bird feathers for women's hats and other fashion.
Inner Marsh Farm hide and Centenary Pool (R.Thomas)
Some of the reserve's most exciting rarities came within the first year after Inner Marsh Farm hide was opened, including three black-winged stilts, a long-billed dowitcher and a white-winged tern! Another early notable sighting was a spotted crake; careful management of clearing rush on the margins of Centenary Pool meant almost instant sightings of this somewhat elusive and shy little bird. We have since had some breeding records of this species, which is scarce in the UK.
Since then similar management techniques are still being used across the reserve to open small pockets of vegetation, literally scraping small patches of earth away for water to collect to create habitat for us to not just get great views but to create a haven for some threatened and declining birds, mammals, invertebrates and even the odd reptile. Such is its success for wildlife, Inner Marsh Farm has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) since 1998 for its internationally important numbers of wintering wildfowl and waders.
One of the reserve's most iconic birds in that threatened category is the avocet, which represents one of the UK's most successful conservation stories over the past eight decades. Yet it was not until 2006 that we had our first avocet nest at Inner Marsh Farm. The following year we were able to purchase a further 55 hectares, the remainder of the Inner Marsh Farm land adjacent to the wetlands we'd created over twenty years, which had been previously earmarked for industrial use by the Welsh Development Agency. That year, three pairs of avocets nested and fledged one chick, increasing to ten pairs in 2008, but unfortunately in 2009 it was discovered that badgers were accessing the island where the avocets were nesting and that year every single egg was eaten.
Avocet sitting on nest (A.Grubb)
Now we love our badger clans here so much so that we celebrate them during the summer months with opportunities for visitors so stay late and watch them after dark. We knew we had to protect the birds nesting on the islands for them to have any success. So, as part of the transformation of the second part of Inner Marsh Farm on it's journey to becoming Burton Mere Wetlands, almost 3km of predator exclusion fence was erected and in the 2012 breeding season we had an amazing 16 pairs of avocet with 30 chicks fledging! The most recent numbers - due to the Covid disruption of 2020 - was in 2019, when a whopping 64 pairs of avocets fledged 73 chicks. Clearly what we have done here is effective, and two other declining waders, lapwings and redshanks, have had similarly strong breeding success. As part of the rejuvenation of Inner Marsh Farm this winter, we're extending the predator exclusion fence to protect the original three pools and their surrounding grassland, thirty years after their initial creation, in a bid to increase our excellent breeding wader numbers even further.
New anti-predator fence currently being installed around the Inner Marsh Farm pools to increase the protected habitat for breeding waders (B.Longden)
Back to the future now… present day 2020, what a year indeed! Despite the trials and tribulations, the team onsite today have the privilege of working here and have been working flat out the last nine months to get the new infrastructure completed and to try keep things open and running as smoothly as possible for all our visitors to enjoy. Our dedicated volunteers came in out of hours to help get things ready back in June and have worked tirelessly since. Thankfully all the hard work done before the first lockdown by our local groups, supporters, staff, visitors and generous donations was now in place and we were able to get the ball rolling for our newest and finest hide to date!
Border hide and its approach ramp (M.Beckett)
Welcome; Border hide! With space for three dozen people at full capacity - when social distancing is no longer required! - different height windows for every visitor to enjoy the new views and most importantly access for all with the new boardwalk work completed too.
Assistant warden Liz taking a close look at the new boardwalk (B.Longden)
This year has been testament to those who started this journey all those years ago and to those still fighting the good fight, pushing forward and working so incredibly hard through many obstacles. We have finally come to the end of an era with Inner Marsh Farm hide being removed recently, and hopefully a bright new beginning for us all.
We want to say the biggest thank you from every single member of staff who started this reserve to those in place now. We all owe so much to those who helped us get to this point, whether you purchase an RSPB coffee each visit, to leaving behind generous legacies, all our supporters we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. A special shout out to the fundraising efforts of the RSPB North Cheshire group along with hugely generous legacies left by local families back in 1989 for the Inner Marsh Farm hide. Equally today nothing has changed, with huge support from the local community, visitors from all across the UK, RSPB Wirral local group working incredibly hard fundraising, some of our regular volunteers and once again local families making very generous donations in order to make the new Border hide become a reality.
The view from Border hide (L.Boone)
We cannot thank each and every one of you enough and we cannot wait to share the new facilities with you when they open early in the new year.
What a lovely, dare I say emotional, summary of the history of IMF and BMW over the years. The reserve is a living testament to all the staff, volunteers and visitors involved in making it such a success. Thank you!
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