You may have noticed a few changes around the reserve recently. The most obvious being the large wooden sand martin bank which was built by and installed by our crack team of practical volunteers. Each hole you can see contains a tube of sand, ready to be excavated by nesting sand martins, who would normally tunnel into river banks and sand dunes to create a nest. We’re hoping our artificial bank will prove attractive to our population of sand martins who return to Lochwinnoch each summer from their African wintering grounds. By providing a helping hand, we hope to go a little way towards reversing the decline in the population.

   Photos by Joe Crossland (Top - RSPB Lochwinnoch Sand Martin Bank. Below - Sand Martin on Mull, 2016).

This work is part of Garnock Connections, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and was funded with a contribution of the Life+ financial instrument of the European Community.

You can watch a video of the construction of the sand martin bank, and visitors will have an opportunity to keep a watchful eye on progress from our channel hide – we can’t wait to see what happens when the sand martins arrive this summer!

Other Garnock Connections  and Life+ projects that have sprung up on the reserve are our biohavens and gull/tern nesting rafts, which you can see from the visitor centre with binoculars or closer up from the Aird Meadow trail – we hope these new structures will entice a variety of birds to nest here. Read more about the structures in our previous blog.

The team also been very proactive around the reserve, cutting and removing the fen vegetation, which will have a number of outcomes. Firstly, this will help knock back the dominant species such as reed canary grass and allow ‘early-successional’ species a chance to flourish. Secondly, this will increase the diversity of the vegetation and create ecological niches that a greater variety of wildlife can exploit. This will be done on a rotational basis over a number of years to create areas of differently aged and structured vegetation. Removing the vegetation also means there is a lower nutrient level resulting from rotting material, which would benefit the dominant species. A lower nutrient level allows other species to thrive. Removal of vegetation also stops ‘thatching’ of the old vegetation, which can lead to drying out of the ground and encroachment by scrub, and the subsequent loss of species that are found on fenland. All this work will create shallow, flooded stubbly areas which are the favoured feeding grounds of snipe and water rail.

We've also been carrying out ‘beneficial disturbance’ of the channel banks, which again appeals to wading birds searching out a meal. By loosening up the soil and reducing compaction and by mixing in some vegetation with the topsoil, the soil structure is improved and nutrients are made available for invertebrates, which in turn are a rich source of food for waders. This work also creates a variety of small, structural features in the ground – small pools and holes that wildlife can exploit when water levels rise and fall over the autumn and spring.

We’ll keep you updated on our habitat management projects – and the fruits of our labours as time goes on. Please do keep sending us your photos and sightings from the reserve – we love to hear from you via our Facebook and Twitter pages!

This project was co funded by the LIFE+ financial instrument of the European Community through EcoCoLife