Monday morning in Burton Mere Wetlands’ office always means reflecting on the prior week, and weekend in particular. However, as enjoyable as the first true taste of summer has been, the weather was far from the most significant feature of the past weekend.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the classic spring scene of the main scrape and its surrounds diminished over the past few days. After suspicions that there was some mammalian activity inside the electric predator exclusion fence, our fears were confirmed on Friday night as one of our warden team observed a Badger crossing the water on the scrape and causing havoc on the islands.

 Avocet family (Ron Thomas)

The result of this come Saturday morning, was the almost complete abandonment of the affectionately-known “gull island” along with a notably reduced number of Avocets in the wider area – and most that remained, feeding in pairs across the scrape having had their nests or young chicks predated.

Obviously, this has come as a huge shock and disappointment to the team who put every ounce of effort into managing Burton Mere Wetlands, knowing that the breeding waders are the primary objective of our conservation delivery, and a thriving Black-headed Gull colony a not insignificant further goal. Not just the warden team are affected, though they are closest to the matter given they actively manage the vegetation and water levels and maintain the fencing throughout the year.

The wider reserve team is equally pained, having invested so much energy into inspiring the public about the work we have done to benefit these iconic birds over the past couple of decades, and spent weeks this winter explaining to visitors about the new fence as it was painstakingly installed.

 Badger entering water, stock photo from 2013 (Andy Ingham)

For the third consecutive year, Burton Mere Wetlands’ waders have suffered considerable impact from the plucky and persistent Badgers. We entered this spring with high hopes that the new electric fence would help steer the reserve back to its best for breeding waders, with peaks of over 200 pairs achieved a few years ago.

The renewed wooden posts and otherwise improved fence design was intended to eliminate Badgers (and Foxes), yet this weekend’s events show that despite this investment, the “honeypot” effect created inside the fence is attractive enough for Badgers to have already outsmarted it. Despite the constant efforts of the warden team testing the electric current and monitoring for signs of digging or interference, the Badgers have found a way through – or more accurately, over.

Badgers are incredibly muscular and resourceful, and clearly even the new exclusion fence in its current form is no match for the persistence of a large local population with the reward of a rich meal. Close inspection of the fence since the weekend suggests that the Badger – whether more than one individual is too soon to know – being successfully prevented from breaching through or under the fence, found a means of climbing over, perhaps braving an electric shock in the process.

Whilst clearly devastated, the team at least understand the motive behind the Badgers’ behaviour. Purely a survival instinct, their insistence on breaching the fence is indicative of the dearth of food available from the surrounding land, such is the general decline of wildlife in our countryside due to various pressures on the landscape.

Additionally, mammals are not the only challenge. As in previous years, a range of avian threats – Buzzard, Carrion Crow, and quite bizarrely as pictured below, Coot – have taken their toll on the nests. This compounds the difficulty of managing for a high density of vulnerable waders, due to the inevitable attraction to predators.

 Coot predating avocet eggs, taken last week from Marsh Covert hide (Paul Hill)

We know you will all share our disappointment, but also trust our commitment to finding a solution. Whilst the realisation of another poor breeding year is still raw, the wardens are already actioning plans to salvage the season for the remaining Avocet and Lapwing chicks, and for the Redshank who so far seem less affected thanks to their preference to nest in areas of denser rush with a greater ability to hide.

Additional electric wire to deter climbing, and extended mesh around access gates – classic weak spots – will be added as short-term remedial measures in the next week or so, before a thorough review in the autumn with some potentially substantial improvements to be made.

In times like this, your support is more valuable than ever; enabling us to overcome setbacks, and giving us the belief to persevere. We’re all in this together.