This year has certainly been a year to remember (or forget – the choice is yours!). I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve closed, re-opened then closed again, but that doesn’t mean the RSPB Dungeness team haven’t been busy working to make Dungeness a fantastic home for nature. We thought we would look back at the events of 2020 and celebrate some remarkable successes.

Coronavirus

There’s no escaping it. Coronavirus has had a major impact on the reserve – as well as the entire country. The reserve was closed for spring and the beginning of summer, and as some of our team couldn’t carry out their normal role the RSPB took advantage of the Job Retention Scheme. Nearly half of the team here went onto furlough leave to help safeguard the RSPB’s financial security, at a time when we had lost our income through events, retail and donations.

During the first lockdown and until the start of July, all volunteering stopped, and only essential work was carried out by the reserve staff. Needless to say, trying to run two reserves (Dungeness and Lydden Valley) with only 3 staff members was a real challenge. Despite this there were some fantastic successes, so let’s focus on a few positives!

Staff Arrivals

Corinne joined us in late March as Retail Manager and while she wasn’t actually able to do much of her core job while we were in Lockdown 1 she was able to undertake brilliant work with the RSPB’s Conservation Team, and then help us to re-open the reserve in July. Corinne has made a great start and has already made loads of fantastic changes to the visitor centre and reserve, with plenty more great ideas to play with.

Lydden Valley Wetland Creation Project

Photo: RSPB Lydden Valley by Gareth Brookfield

By far the biggest success of the year has been the planning and delivery of the second year of the Wetland Creation Project at Lydden Valley, our sister reserve to Dungeness. This new reserve was granted £1.2million pounds as part of the EU’s Water Environment Grant. This has meant that we are able to transform the reserve into a fantastic nature reserve and with more works due in 2021 to finish off the last of the new wetland reserve.

There have been some great signs of the site showing its potential with sightings including great grey shrike, pectoral sandpiper, storks and an incredibly 400+ white-fronted geese seen in recent months, and that’s without the water control structures in place to help keep water where we want it – so the reserve can only get better!

 

Breeding Birds at Dungeness

Whether the reserve being quieter during April to June correlated to a good breeding season, or whether it was just a coincidence, is something we will never know. But certain species had a very good year on the reserve.

Breeding wader success was an early highlight. Due to the maintenance of high-water levels well into May redshank and lapwing had a bumper year. The number of breeding pairs were up to 12 for each species and although a lack of surveying time means that we will never know for sure, the number of fledged birds seen by reserve staff show that productivity (the number of fledged birds per pair), was very high.

Photo: Lapwing by Corinne Pardey

Marsh Harrier went from 1 nest in 2019 to 4 in 2020 and bittern nests increased from 3 nests in 2019 to 4 in 2020. Productivity of these nests is unknown, again due to a lack of available time to monitor during the core months.

Common tern nests were up by 20 this year to a staggering 109 active nests. The poor weather in June had some impact upon breeding success, but a minimum of 90 fledglings survived. Again, we didn’t have the time to undertake the in-depth monitoring we were planning to do, and there is a large probability that the true number of fledglings was much higher.

Black headed gulls also had a good year, up from 6 nests in 2019 to 17 in 2020 and the number of juveniles seen would indicate a good breeding year.

We had four pair of garganey breed in 2020 which is a great result, as is the 2 pairs of corn bunting heard whilst undertaking essential works. Yellow wagtail would also appear to have had a good year given the number of young birds seen in the autumn. This is the same with bearded tits as they seem to be everywhere among reeds this autumn.

We are hoping that we can spend more time out on the reserve recording this vital information next year.

glossy ibis

Photo: Glossy ibis by Corinne Pardey

Reserve Team Volunteers Work since their return

Since returning to work in July, our invaluable Reserve Team Volunteers have been hard at work making up for lost time during the initial lockdown.

Much of the summer was spent getting the reserve back up and running, strimming and clearing paths. By the end of August, the focus was on clearing the seabird islands on Burrowes Pit and opening the Walkers Outland Trail to visitors, before moving onto anti-predator fence maintenance. Some of the wires and insulators were starting to degrade and required replacing and there was a summer’s worth of vegetation growth to tackle.

Much of the remainder of the autumn was spent replacing livestock infrastructure where this was starting to degrade, and installing livestock fencing at ARC to enable overwintering sheep grazing for the first time. The team have also spent time removing cut willow to allow excavator access into different areas. Two days have been spent removing willow from the reedbed at ARC and the team are now working on clearing a thick area of scrub towards the Water Tower in the hope to encourage some of our rare mosses back into the area, as they were once recorded in the vicinity. One day was spent clearing willow whilst being surrounded by bearded tit - a fantastic experience.

bearded tit

Photo: Bearded tit by Corinne Pardey

We have also kept the team busy getting the new Firth Lookout viewpoint open once the excavator had finished playing its part. This involved a lot of fencing and sleeper installation, as well as compacting the ground to make foot and wheelchair access easier. We thought this would take a week or so to finish, but our fantastic volunteers completed it all in a day! A brilliant effort, and very much appreciated by the team and our visitors already.

Firth Lookout

Photo: Firth Lookout by Gareth Brookfield

The work done by our volunteers is amazing and without them, we just wouldn’t be able to do half as much as we would like to. We have lots of volunteer opportunities available, so if you are interested please speak to a member of the team.

Mechanical Habitat Management

In January we had Rhino Plant Hire on-site undertaking a range of habitat works including sea buckthorn removal in the sandy area just north of ARC car park. The sea buckthorn has become increasingly dominant across the reserve and is outcompeting some of our rarer plants. Thanks to funding from Affinity Water we started the process of removing the roots of the plant in the sand area with considerable success. So much so that we are doing more in early 2021 at ARC. Thanks to further funding from Affinity Water and the Fifth Continent Project as well as some of our own funds, we are looking to undertake a massive 4 hectare of sea buckthorn clearance. This will completely transform ARC and get the buckthorn back to a level where we can keep on top of it with less invasive techniques.

sand clearance

Photo: Sea buckthorn removal by Gareth Brookfield

We also started work on removing the thick patch of sea buckthorn between Firth and Makepeace Hides to help control the spread in this area. We utilised the area of disturbed bank to create a new viewing area called Firth Lookout which is an accessible area for the whole family to experience an immersive panoramic view overlooking the majority of Burrowes Pit.

As well as routine weed topping in July and September, we also rotavated areas of the Hayfields to reduce the area of soft rush that is increasing in dominance. Too much of this plant is not great for our lapwing and other waders who prefer open areas of grassland, and lots of bare wet mud.

December saw us get Rhino Plant Hire back onto site to do some work on removing reed rhizomes around the Willow Trail and in front of Hanson Hide, to create more water/reedy edge which is great for species such as bittern. Removing some of the reed rhizomes will also create opportunities for other species, such as great crested newts, to colonise some of these areas. Rhino also started desilting some of the ditches around the reserve to provide 10m lengths of bare ditch. Having a variety of ditch ages is important to provide opportunities for different species.

sunset

Photo: Sunset by Corinne Pardey

Whilst there have been some massive difficulties in 2020, there are also so many positives to take from it too. None of this work would have been possible without the ongoing support of our volunteers. Through the support you provide you help to undertake everything we do to keep Dungeness special. With lots of exciting plans to keep building on the successes of the past few years, we need your support now more than ever.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please speak to a member of the team on your next visit.

Thank you for your ongoing support throughout 2020 and we look forward to seeing you all again in 2021.

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