RSPB Mersehead Blog 10th – 23rd July 2021

Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog last week and hence the length of this one! With the high pressure and temperatures soaring to 30C we have been making hay at Mersehead. It can be quite tense hay making in Scotland as you need at least a week of high pressure and a good dry heat. Nerves start to jangle as you check the weather constantly and finally make the decision to go for it.

Rowing & baling the hay. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Initially just two fields were cut but with the weather forecast further improving we threw all our eggs into one basket and cut another three fields. Our management of the dry grassland fields at Mersehead is specifically aimed at the internationally important wintering population of Svalbard Barnacle geese. These geese feed on nutrient rich grasslands and by creating this habitat on the nature reserve we aim to encourage more geese onto the reserve and away from local silage fields. We are in a constant battle with soft rush across the wetland habitats on the reserve and our management of the drier ground prevents soft rush rampaging across the whole reserve as wall to wall rush will decrease wildlife diversity.

289 bales to bring in. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Along the woodland edge look out for the 1ha Wild Bird Cover plot, currently a profusion of yellow. Throughout the winter, this area will provide a vital food source for species such as Tree Sparrow, Linnet and Yellowhammer. It has been great to watch the local Tree Sparrow population rearing their young. One box must be close to fledging as greedy heads appear at the hole of the box to meet the parent carrying food.

Wild bird cover crop. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Sitting in the hides at Mersehead you may wonder where all the water has gone. Draining the wetlands throughout July and August is an important management technique for the returning wintering wildfowl and helps to maintain attractive breeding areas for next year’s waders. Many soil invertebrates do not flourish in constant anaerobic conditions so by draining the water we should help to ensure a stable food source. The dry ground also allows us to continue the annual battle with soft rush as we will mechanically cut the rush with a mower on the back of the tractor.

Shoveler duckling. Photo credit: G.Chambers

Cattle grazing creates a mosaic sward structure whilst the movement of the cattle across the wetlands helps to provide areas of bare ground. We currently have three breeds of cattle helping with our conservation grazing; Luing, Aberdeen Angus and Belted Galloway.

Belted Galloway. Phot credit: R.Flavelle

Luing were officially recognised as a breed by the British government in 1965. This breed is a cross between Beef Shorthorn and Highland Cattle, first breed on the Inner Hebridean Island of Luing in 1947 with the aim of creating a good beef cow which could raise a calf in the adverse Scottish weather.

The Luing herd. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

Throughout the winter at Mersehead we run a number of beach clean events. During the winter months of 2019/20 the RSPB was generously sponsored by SC Johnson to run beach cleans, working together to take action on the issue of marine plastics through a programme reaching over 300,000 people. Our last beach clean had been due to take place in July 2020 to coincide with World Oceans Day. This week, the Mersehead volunteers were able to get back out on the beach, cleaning the section running from the merse footpath round to the mouth of the Southwick Water. This a beautiful quiet corner of the reserve with distance views across to the Lott’s Wife Waterfall.

Mersehead beach. Photo credit: P.Radford

Many botanical coastal specialists can be found in this sheltered corner including the regionally scarce Sea Holly and Sea Bindweed. The endemic Isle of Man Cabbage is a bright yellow crucifer easily identified by its distinctive lobed leaves. This plant only grows on the west coast in Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, on the Gower in Wales and in Southern Scotland.

Further out on the merse shades of purple dominant with Common Sea LavenderSea Aster and the nationally scarce Lax-flowered Sea Lavender all in flower. Ragged Robin can be seen growing in some of the damper areas. The pair of Raven which nested on the cliffs can often be seen with their two young.

Sea Holly & 6-spot burnet moth. Photo credit: R.Flavelle

We were excited to take part in Moth Night 2021 with this year’s theme being reedbeds and wetlands. The warm night temperature, a minimum of 14C, meant there was a lot of moths to identify and record. Across three Robinson Moth traps a total of 1012 moths from 133 species were recorded. Wainscots are reedbed specialists with 6 species being recorded in the Mersehead reedbed; Smoky Wainscot, Shoulder-striped Wainscot, Common Wainscot, Southern Wainscot, Silky Wainscot, Obscure Wainscot. Elephant Hawk-moth was the most common species with 58 individuals recorded. A scarce migrant, a Bedstraw-Hawkmoth was a nice surprise.

Obscure Wainscot. Photo credit: G.Chambers

 Bedstraw Hawk-moth. Photo credit: G.Chambers

We sell the hay locally which provides some income to help in our nature conservation work on the reserve. If you are interested in buying hay from the reserve, please get in touch with us at 

Rowena Flavelle, Warden