Merse Diversity

RSPB Mersehead blog 25th June – 1st July 2022

Flat, alluvial, frequently marshy land bordering upon a river, a river estuary or the sea, specifically applied to the land (partly reclaimed) bordering the Solway Firth – definition of “merse” Scottish National Dictionary.

The above definition gives a good indication as to where Mersehead obtained its name. This week has seen us spending a good deal of time out on the merse (saltmarsh) checking the livestock fencing to ensure everything is ready for the cattle grazing in July and August.

We use a mob grazing technique where a high density of cattle graze the merse for a short period of time. This gives a longer grass recovery stage and allows flowering plants to set seed. The diversity of wildflowers across the section of merse which has been mob grazed for the past 8+years is currently giving the merse a kaleidoscope of colour. This in turn provides a diversity of insects feeding on the nectar.

Kaleidoscopic Merse. Photo credit: R. Flavelle

Common Blue Butterfly. Photo credit: R. Flavelle

Over the winter, you may have noticed a new livestock fence going up along the side of the merse footpath as you approach the beach. This area of merse in contrast, contains a high percentage of long rank vegetation which quickly outcompetes wildflowers and is uninviting to breeding waders and demonstrates the importance of well managed livestock grazing. We will be introducing cattle to this area in July to assist this area of merse to diversify in both vegetation structure and composition.

The bright sunny weather has certainly brought out the butterflies with Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Small White, Large Skipper, Painted Lady, Ringlet, Red Admiral and Common Blue all seen on a walk around Mersehead this week. However, these were outdone by a stunning Hummingbird Hawkmoth buzzing up and down the main track to the woodland. It's worth keeping an eye out for these fast movers as they continue to migrate north from southern Europe and North Africa. Although widespread throughout the UK, they are most numerous in southern and eastern England, the midlands and south Wales so it was great to spot one on the reserve. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth has also been recorded at RSPB Mull of Galloway recently. A casual glance upwards revealed a secretive Osprey quietly flying over the reserve which just finished off the walk!

Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Photo credit: G. Chambers (Archive)

Also competing for the star sighting of the week has to be the 2 Common Lizard which have been repeatedly seen basking in the sunshine on one of the driftwood benches along the main track up to the woodland.

Common Lizard. Photo credit: R. Flavelle

It has certainly been a good year for the Mersehead Natterjack toad colony as we continue to see the emergence of toadlets. This tiny amphibians will take 3-years to reach maturity, living for as long as 12-years and reaching around 65mm long (which is the size of my hand in contrast to the fingertip in the photo!)

Natterjack tadpole a couple of weeks ago (above) . . . has now become a toadlet (below). Photo credit: R. Flavelle


Upcoming events:

How to begin Birdwatching

Friday 22nd July

Thursday 20th October


Guided walk

Summer Discovery Walk

Thursday 21st July

Thursday 18th August

11:00-13:00 Guided walk

Big Wild Summer at Mersehead

Running daily

2nd July - 31st August

10:00-15:00 Self-led discovery trail

Autumn Discovery Walk

Thursday 27th October

11:00-13:00 Guided walk

Goose Roost on the Sandflats

Sunday 23rd October

Sunday 30th October

17:30-19:30 Guided walk

*Holiday Cottages - Planning your 2022 holidays? Discover the breath-taking scenery, wildlife, cultural and history of Dumfries & Galloway whilst staying in one of the Mersehead cosy semi-detached holiday cottages – Barnacle and Shelduck – located in the heart of reserve.

*Flooding - Please note that Mersehead nature reserve is prone to flooding during periods of high rainfall and/or strong winds and tidal surges. To avoid disappointment at these times, please contact the reserve in advance of your visit by email in the first instance at or check the RSPB Dumfries and Galloway Facebook Page for daily updates.