Works is due to start later this week on a major project to replace the aging fence around the Scrape.
The fence is intended to prevent ground-nesting predators, such as foxes or badgers, from gaining access to the Scrape, thus protecting breeding gulls, waders, ducks and terns. The existing fence, erected in 1988, is nearing the end of its life and it has become increasingly difficult to maintain in recent years as much of it runs close to a wet ditch. We had suspected that predators were finding their way through the fence, and this spring we had proof that a badger was forcing it's way through (or under) the existing fence, resulting in the loss or abandonment of most nests of gulls, avocets and terns - as witnessed on our TV screens during BBC Springwatch.
We have been investigating options for replacing the Scrape fence for a few years, and earlier this autumn we applied for planning permission for a new fence. This was granted, and contractors have now been employed, so work is due to start later this week.
It's not simply a case of removing one fence to replace it with another though. In order to make the new fence as predator-proof as possible, we're planning to erect it on dry ground around its entire length, allowing us to dig it deep into the ground and reduce the likelihood of any foxes or badgers digging under the fence. This means that the new fence will follow a different route in some places. We will also be building a low bank around much of the Scrape, onto which the fence will stand. While the fence will be slightly higher in places, we do not anticipate this having an impact on the fantastic views across the Scrape.
Work is due to start on this project on Wednesday, and should take about ten weeks to complete, with the new fence erected by the end of February - in time for the next breeding season. The project has been designed to minimise disturbance to wildlife as much as possible during construction. Our contractors will be working on only one part of the fenceline at any time, thus ensuring that most of the Scrape remains undisturbed. We'll let you know at reception each day which hides are most likely to be disturbed each day so that you can plan your visit.
As most of the work will be done with machinery, the ducks will generally continue to feed on other parts of the Scrape. Another part of the reserve that can be great for watching wildfowl is the Minsmere Levels - two tundra bean geese arrived late last week, and there are often several pintails there. The best place to watch the Levels from is usually the dunes south of the sluice, but this winter we have also opened a seasonal trail to the ruins of Leiston Abbey chapel, from where there are superb views south across the Levels. This new seasonal path is accessed via the footpath from the sluice to Eastbridge and is well worth a detour.
The view from Leiston Abbey chapel across the Levels
And, of course, Island Mere continues to offer excellent wildlife watching, with daily sightings of bitterns, marsh harriers, otters and the great white egret, as well as coots, cormorants and commoner ducks. At least three Bewick's swans have been feeding on flooded fields south of the mere too. these are best viewed with a telescope from the Whin Hill Watchpoint. The starlings have been roosting at the Island Mere end of the reedbed this week too.
Finally, with all the recent rain, please don't forget to bring a good pair of walking boots or wellies if you are planning a visit, as the path from South Hide to the sluice is prone to flooding, and there are puddles in many places.
Cormorants and mute swans on Island Mere today
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