As spring approaches, it is only natural for us to think about new beginnings. After one of the most challenging years most of us have ever endured, the thought of fresh starts serves well to lift our collective spirits, and the Government's roadmap out of lockdown this week tells us we should be able to get outside more and enjoy most of the forthcoming season.

It’s certainly no secret that nature has played a huge part in helping many of us cope with the past year, and in fact it has resulted in significantly more people across the UK taking an interest and developing a love of nature, which should have long-standing benefits for nature conservation in this country.

This revolution was reflected in a surge of new visitors to Burton Mere Wetlands when we were able to reopen in the summer as people sought local places to visit, often in search of green space and wildlife a little different to that they had begun to notice in their garden or immediate surrounds.

 The iconic reserve landscape of rich wetlands against the backdrop of Deeside Industrial Park (Paul Jubb)

We were delighted to see this trend continue into autumn and winter, however this coincided with a period of essential, yet disruptive work which whilst ongoing left the reserve looking and feeling far from its best. From substantial boardwalk repairs and painting the visitor centre impacting our usual friendly welcome area, to major projects including the construction of Border hide and installation of extensive electric fencing, the Covid pandemic certainly hasn’t stood in the way of us improving the reserve for people and wildlife in the past six months.

However some of this work, the last of which has just finished, left the reserve looking a little worse for wear at times, with mess caused by tractors transporting materials onto the reserve, and other machinery performing heavy labour. On top of this, the wetlands sometimes appeared barren as the birds moved away from the location of works to farther, quieter reaches of the site.

If you have been able to visit in the past six months, you’ll know exactly what I mean; sections of accessible trails shattered and peppered with debris, an unfathomable and unsightly amount of mud, and fruitless time sat in Marsh Covert hide before Christmas watching the fencing contractors edge their way past the reedbed and around Bridge Pool.

If you visited for the first time in the past six months, we’re conscious that the reserve may have seemed a little underwhelming, disappointing even, and not particularly inspiring to hurry back again. Yet with all this major work completed just in time for the start of the crucial breeding season, we hope you will venture back here once lockdown starts to ease, in search of a spring and summer nature fix to see the reserve in all its glory filled with fascinating sights and sounds in all directions.

Not only will the landscape naturally recover with the spring growth, we will turn our attention to fully repairing the damaged trails, not least to reinstate the high quality fully accessible route now proudly extended to the new Border hide we’re eager to unveil when permitted.

The most prolonged disruption this winter was caused by the erection of an electric predator exclusion fence around the perimeter of the Inner Marsh Farm wetland, the oldest part of Burton Mere Wetlands where abandoned crop fields were purchased way back in 1986. Regulars to the reserve will be familiar with the identical electric fence around the main scrape and wet grassland installed as part of Burton Mere Wetlands’ development a decade ago. Not to overshadow the tantalising new hide, this work that offers the same protection to the older habitat has been mooted for years, so to finally achieve it is a huge step forward in the reserve’s conservation objectives.

 The electric fence installation in progress near Marsh Covert hide (B.Longden)

Coupled with a switch from sheep to cattle-grazing and scope for using our soil-spreading machine to create more wet foot drains and further improve the habitat, we could – should – see an improvement in our already impressive numbers of breeding waders. Years of hard work have resulted in Burton Mere Wetlands becoming home to not only locally, but nationally significant populations of lapwings and redshanks whilst the pressures continue to mount on their historic breeding sites in the wider countryside, plus the iconic avocets although their fortunes are generally much brighter across the country.

 One of the highland cows used for grazing the wet grassland for a short time in the autumn (Joe Sully)

Why go to such extreme measures of having miles of electric fencing, you may ask? It’s not required everywhere, but our experience of developing Burton Mere Wetlands over the past thirty five years tells us that despite creating quality wetland habitat, the biggest threat to the vulnerable ground-nesting waders that we set out to give a home is their eggs being scavenged particularly by badgers and foxes. Given our semi-rural location on the urban-farmland fringe, there is an abundance of these predators so the electric fence to prevent them accessing the rich wetlands and diverting them to other plentiful food sources that are less of a nature conservation priority elsewhere on the reserve.

So, as we embark upon our journey to emerge from the disruption of Covid over the months ahead, we also look forward to leaving behind our own unpreventable disarray caused by these important infrastructure improvements. As spring rejuvenates the landscape, we'll be working hard to tidy up everything else and return to doing what RSPB reserves are renowned for; inspiring you, our supporters, with unforgettable experiences of nature and celebrating the successes of our vital conservation work.

As part of repairing the inevitable damage to the surfaced trails by the movement of contractors' machinery, we will also be altering Bridge screen to address the unavoidable matter of the new electric fence creating a visual barrier, through raising the level of the viewpoint to provide views over the fence onto Bridge Pool. In doing so, the slight elevation will offer visitors better views of more of the pool, another exciting improvement to look forward to.

Regardless of how quickly our lives can regain any sense of normality this year, there's plenty to look forward to at Burton Mere Wetlands, which somehow already clocks its 10th anniversary in 2021. Whether your next visit is your first, second, or 92nd, we can't wait to share it with you.

  • Thank you Dan. Another welcome update on the Reserve. I know that work has to be done around reserve, and sometimes this inevitably sometimes causes disruption. So I suppose lockdown has been something of a blessing in disguise in allowing the work to progress with less inconvenience to visitors! (He says, trying to find some positives from this pandemic!). 

    For sure, the changes will make the eventual return to regular visits all the more exciting and wonderful.

    Keep up the good work. Stay safe. See you soon(-ish).