Tollesbury Wick

Monday 8th February 2016

Tollesbury Wick

Hopes are high that a major project to ‘re-wet’ areas of Tollesbury Wick nature reserve, on the north bank of the Blackwater Estuary, will bring spectacular results for breeding waders in the spring.

Tollesbury Wick Marshes is one of Essex Wildlife Trust’s largest and most important reserves. A total of 140 species birds have been recorded, including Dark-bellied Brent Goose and Wigeon in winter. Fifty species have bred, among them Skylark, Reed Bunting, Pochard, Lapwing and Redshank. It is also a good site for Water Voles and dragonflies.

Part of the Wick, which was enwalled from the sea 300-400 years ago, was ploughed and drained in the 1970s to improve the land for agriculture. As a result this northern section of the site is flatter and drier than the rest – and lacks the wet conditions that waders, especially Lapwing and Redshank, which are both of conservation concern, rely on for breeding.

In October 2014 a new 10-year grant scheme was secured via Natural England to continue the management of the site as an important place for over wintering birds and to improve conditions to encourage breeding waders. As a result and thanks to a significant amount of funding from WREN’s FCC Biodiversity Action Fund, a landfill community tax fund, the scheme was designed, with the help of wetland expert Roger Wardle, to repair and ‘re-wet’ the dry northern marsh. J E Spence & Son have been expert contractors.

At 55 hectares, this ambitious scheme is the largest habitation restoration project carried out by the Trust for many years. Part of the project is construction of a shallow storage lagoon, so that excess winter rainfall can then be slowly released as required during the spring to keep the new channels and wetland features ‘topped up’, to ensure the optimum habitat conditions are provided. Water in the storage lagoon has slowly increased over the winter and sown grass on the site has taken well. The grass has been grazed by Wigeon and Brent Geese, which is good news as the birds’ grazing helps the grass to tiller. Golden Plover and Lapwing have been present in good numbers; hopefully, the latter will soon start to display on the site.

Within the lagoon are five islands, some gravel topped to provide nesting habitat for other species such as terns, Ringed Plover or Oystercatcher.

In anticipation, a very exciting spring lies ahead. On such a large site, ideally situated adjacent to the Blackwater Estuary, it is possible to imagine dozens of pairs of breeding waders at Tollesbury Wick within a very short time. The Trust is currently planning ways in which to enhance the visitor experience but, in the meantime, excellent views can be had of the site from the seawall and the existing bird hide.