Marshside’s coastal grazing marsh is a remaining fragment of a much wider network both locally and nationally. Ongoing habitat loss in the last century has seen the large declines in species such as lapwing and redshank. Standard semi-improved grassland has decreased by 97% since the 1960s, its coastal equivalent must have been hit even more so.
Faced with this background, the RSPB at Marshside strives to keep the site in optimum condition, concentrating on the key species that use the marsh. This involves managing the reserves edges as well as the reserve proper.
The sites edges are all artificially raised, and out of the reach of flood water, which encourages the colonisation of species/habitat that can be damaging to the marsh. The following points look at the factors that influence our management of the raised marsh edges.
Generalist predators such as rats, corvids and foxes have a negative impact on this important wetland and the productivity of its specialist species. In a larger natural landscape their impact through any nesting, hiding, perching spots and ‘highways’ would be naturally reduced. Large areas of tall scrub enabled by the artificial banks gives them one unfair advantage. This advantage is further exaggerated by nearby houses providing supplementary winter food and warmth. Minimising the opportunities for these areas to develop means more successful nests on the marsh.
Collecting and concentrating pollutants
Large dense areas of willow scrub attract and collect contaminants from casual littering and dog poo to hazardous materials and fly tipping. Clearing and litter collecting recently between Dawlish Drive and Marshside primary resulted in over 20 bags of rubbish, a large gas canaster and the dumped remains of a cannabis farm.
The various banks around and through Marshside Reserve have had colonies of non-native invasive species start to invade. These plants arrive through fly tipping, on visitors’ shoes and escapees from neighbouring gardens. We are locked in a constant and timely battle in keeping these at bay on the banks, sometimes this involves keeping areas vegetation free. Non-native species include - Sumac, Canadian golden rod, Japanese knotweed, Giant hogweed, Russian vine, Rosa Ragusa and Sea buckthorn to name a few.
As well as being a naturally open landscape from a human perspective, the specialist species that use the reserves are drawn to open areas. Keeping the artificial boundaries between the marshes as discrete as possible allows the area to function as a single marsh. Approaching flocks of birds naturally avoid enclosed and over shadowed areas. Large amounts of tall scrub, especially where the marsh is fragmented by roads or banks would deter many species, especially those traveling in large flocks.
We have a responsibility to ensure that the banks and any drainage or road infrastructure and visibility is not affected by vegetation.
What we want to achieve
The most common management of road banks, sea walls and flood banks is to keep them cut down to rough grassland 100%. This is the easiest way to prevent damage to the structure of the banks and allow for easy maintenance. It also limits the aforementioned issues.
At Marshside, to provide habitat for small birds, invertebrates and small mammals- we aim to keep a mosaic of grassland, bramble, low scrub and successional scrub. This involves rotational mowing, coppicing and felling. Native hedgerow is also planted and managed where appropriate.
This can look harsh
Cutting and clearing areas that are near full succession can seem harsh, especially as this work takes place in winter. The areas recover quickly in spring with fresh shoots from the coppiced stumps and ground flora pushing through encouraged by newfound light.
We are proud of how this phased, mosaic approach has brought so many house sparrows to parts of the banks, as well as whitethroats, and thrushes.
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© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
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