RSPB Titchwell Marsh, is home to some of the UK’s most threatened wetland wildlife, including bitterns and avocets. Thanks to funding received from LIFE on The Edge (www.projectlote.life), an exciting project will be delivered at this diverse nature reserve this autumn to improve their fortunes.
The project aims to transform the freshwater habitats that these scarce birds are reliant upon and to enable visitors to be closer to nature.
Why do you need to do this work?
Bitterns and bearded tits are dependent upon reedbeds but in the past 10 years their numbers have declined at Titchwell Marsh, with bitterns failing to breed.
Due to eroded banks and a lack of water control structures, our ability to carry out rotational cutting, drying and wetting of the reedbed to benefit the contrasting needs of bitterns and bearded tits is challenging.
Bearded tits prefer the older, drier sections of the reedbeds whereas bitterns prefer younger, wetter reed areas. Additionally, a large amount of scrub is establishing which is making it unsuitable for a range of reedbed associated species.
Avocets are another priority species for the reserve. A lack of islands within the freshwater marsh and the inability to manipulate water levels, combined with mammalian predation has led to breeding avocet numbers declining.
Since the installation of the anti-predator fence to the largest island in the freshwater marsh we have seen an increase in breeding avocets, however, the number of chicks produced by all breeding species on the Freshmarsh remains low.
Titchwell Marsh is an important service station for migrating waders, but they can be put off by aggressive avocets and the lack of dynamic water management reduces the availability of fresh food (invertebrates) to fuel their migration.
Where will work be occurring?
There are two parts to the project, the first is to redesign the Freshmarsh and the second element is to restore the Freshwater reedbed.
Image credit: Jeff Kew
What will the work on the Freshwater marsh entail?
The Freshmarsh will be split into three compartments, a large compartment on the eastern side and two smaller compartments next to the west bank path.
Two low wide bunds will be created using material from the freshwater marsh to create the compartments and water control structures will be installed within each bund.
Ten new islands of different heights will be created, mainly in the eastern compartment to provide nesting habitat for avocets, black-headed gulls, Mediterranean gulls and common terns. Again, the material will be sourced from the Freshmarsh.
This redesign will allow us to rotationally dry compartments to restart the clock, which reduces predation levels and maximises invertebrate numbers that waders feed on.
How will you stop mammalian predators taking eggs and chicks from any new islands you create to the freshwater marsh?
Since 2016 we have been trialling an anti- predator fence around the largest of the islands to the freshwater marsh which has proven to be successful. The new design of the freshwater marsh will include a larger anti-predator fence to ensure the breeding bird population has the best chances of success.
Will the predator fence affect me viewing the wildlife on the Freshmarsh, as the current fence obscures my viewing of the birds on the island?
We will be carefully designing the predator fence to sit within a new ditch to allow you to view over the fence but doesn’t allow foxes to jump over the fence.
Will the gull population not keep growing and push out the avocets?
By creating islands at different heights, we will be able to draw down water exposing different areas throughout the breeding season to account for the differing arrival time of our breeding birds, late arrivals, and failed breeders from other sites.
Will there be lots of rare waders on the redesigned freshwater marsh?
We hope so! Compartmentalising the freshwater marsh and creating new islands and banks will improve the management of the area. Through raising and lowering water levels, rotationally drying areas and exposing muddy areas creates the ideal conditions to manage the invertebrate’s waders like to feed on. This should attract more passage waders and keep them here for longer.
What work will be happening in the freshwater reedbed?
Within the reedbed, we will be creating 5 distinct compartments, which can be managed independently of each other but remain connected to ensure fish for example can move throughout the reserve.
This will be achieved by repairing the eroded banks within the reedbed and installing several new water control structures.
To ensure the reedbed benefits key reedbed species such as bitterns, water voles and fish, existing ditches will be reprofiled, new ditches created, and several new pools will be created.
Additionally, we will be creating habitat for breeding spoonbills to benefit the growing breeding population of Spoonbills with the UK and Norfolk. This will involve creating scrubby islands overhanging shallow pools of water.
How long will the work take and when will this happen?
We want to limit the impact on the breeding and wintering wildlife so we will only have a relatively small window during the late summer, early autumn to complete the work.
The work on the freshwater marsh is planned for August 2021 and the work in the reedbed will follow on afterwards, completing October 2021.
Do you have to do any preparation work before the contractors arrive?
To complete the works on the Freshmarsh, we are drying up the Freshmarsh in June and July so that it is free of water and the mud has had a chance to dry. This enables safer working for the contractors and ensures the material can be used to build the bunds.
Will I still have access to the reserve during the works?
Yes, we will still be open as normal during the construction period. There may need to be some temporary footpath closures to the east side of the reserve, but we will ensure we keep you informed so you can plan your visit.
Will I still be able to see wildlife during the construction period?
Yes, although the number and variety of birds is likely to be reduced in the areas where the contractors are working.
We expect that birds will still use Volunteer Marsh, Tidal Marsh, the beach and unaffected areas of the reserve during this period.
When we carried out similar works in the past, we had record counts of waterfowl during the winter following the works and the following year was one of the best breeding years on record.
Will you be building more hides/paths?
This is an ecological project with the focus on enhancing habitats for priority species. Once the project is complete, we will assess if and where we can offer additional viewing opportunities. Protecting species from disturbance is our number one priority and we will only consider further visitor access if we conclude that it will not be detrimental to any wildlife if we do.
Where will the money come from for this project?
The project will be funded through LIFE on the Edge. This is a £3.4million project to enhance coastal sites, improve their resilience and to inform future working. Find out more here
This is a really exciting time for the nature reserve and we can't wait for the contractors to arrive in August to commence the work and to watch the wildlife respond following completion
If you do have any queries please email firstname.lastname@example.org
NW Norfolk Reserves Warden