The Ribble Estuary is vast, stretching from Lytham St Annes on the north side, down to Southport on the south side. Between the two, the great expanse of marvellous mudflats and saltmarsh are a vital home for nature. Mud might not sound particularly appetising to us, but it’s crucial for quarter of a million birds that are drawn in by it every year. Ribble mud is a canteen – it is packed full of cockles and shrimps and l ugworms , mussels and more. Tasty morsels to feed a variety of appetites. Curlews , dunlin , black-tailed godwits , redshanks , swirling flocks of knot , and oystercatchers in abundance feed on the estuary. Their differing beak lengths and shapes allow them all to find food within the mud layers. Redshank by Tim Melling In winter, the Ribble Estuary is also synonymous with pink-footed geese . Tens of thousands of them come here every year from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland, for the comparatively milder weather here on the saltmarsh and fields. You can spot them flying in V-formation overhead and hear their distinctive “wink-wink” sound. They are joined by a variety of ducks that come to spend the colder months here too. At Marshside wigeons , teals , shovelers , tufted ducks and pintails are a colour palette on the pools, brightening up gloomy north west winter days. Pink-footed geese by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com) It’s not just the wetter months that bring such treasures. In spring elegant avocets arrive to breed at Marshside. As the emblem of the RSPB they represent a remarkable success story . and are a joy to watch, as they raise their young in front of the hide. You can also experience the incredible sight and sound of lapwings as they tumble and swoop overhead, making a noise like a 90s computer game – “peewit, peeeewit” – displaying to a mate and warding off threats to their nest. And when it comes to sound, there’s not much that can beat the glorious, erratic tune of male skylarks as they sing to appeal to the ladies out on the marsh. Avocet by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com) The Ribble Estuary is one of the most important places for birds in Europe and so has been designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) offering high levels of protection. The Ribble Estuary NNR , which includes our Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh reserves, is England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top Ten most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here, which is why it is so important to protect it. That’s not to mention the abundance of brown hares , butterflies, other incredible insects and specialist plants that live here too. We’ve recently purchased Crossens Inner Marsh to take even more wildlife under our wing. But it isn’t all here by magic. Saving Saltmarsh The saltmarsh and wetlands of Marshside are not only home to a range of incredible creatures, from insects, to plants, mammals and birds that thrive in this harsh environment. They also benefit people, by reducing flood risk to homes and businesses and helping to tackle climate change by storing carbon. Sadly though, much of the saltmarsh and wetlands in this country have been lost to human activity such as development and agriculture, and are further threatened by climate change, making this reserve vitally important for wildlife and people. That is why it is so crucial to protect the landscape here at Marshside and the wildlife that lives in it all year round. When visiting the saltmarsh, we ask that visitors stay on the waymarked track (known as ‘Redshank Road’) only, because venturing onto the marsh can cause serious disturbance to both wintering and nesting birds, and can also be hazardous for people and dogs. Many of the birds here have flown thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to spend the autumn and winter months here. Other birds spend the spring and summer months here and use the saltmarsh to raise their families. The over-wintering birds come here to feed or to ‘roost’ (rest and conserve energy). Winter is a particularly stressful time for these birds, some of which may have lost half of their body weight during migration. They need to be able to rest and feed on the marshes undisturbed, to regain condition and put on enough weight to survive the winter and make the migration back to their breeding grounds in the spring. Unfortunately, the birds here are often unintentionally disturbed by human activities such as dog walking, walking, birdwatching, drones, model airplanes and kites. The birds perceive these to be predators and so the effect of this disturbance is great. Disturbing birds does more than simply causing them to fly away; it uses up their energy reserves, decreasing their chances of survival. Once disturbed, birds take a long time to settle and will remain alert for a long time afterwards. This means they cannot rest properly after a disturbance event. In the breeding season, disturbance often causes parents to leave their nests or young, exposing their eggs or chicks to the weather and to predators and reducing their chances of survival. The nesting birds here nest on the ground and because their nests and young are very well camouflaged, it is very easy for visitors to unintentionally disturb or damage them without being aware that they have done so. There isn’t a very long history of the marsh being used by the general public, as up until sand-winning ceased in 2006 , there was big dumper trucks to contend with during the day, putting off all but the keenest of folk. These large vehicles are now gone, but there are still continuing safety implications for people accessing the marsh. Warning signs are up to highlight the hazards of incoming tides, strong winds, soft mud and gullies. However tempting the landscape looks, visitors should stick to the waymarked route and always be mindful of high tide times, to avoid getting stranded or caught out by the sea. We can’t protect the landscape or wildlife of Marshside without your help. From the end of July 2019, we’re making some changes. Car parking charges will be introduced at Marshside for non-members. These will be as follows: Up to 2 hours – £1.50 Over 2 hours – £3 As a charity, we must maximise our opportunities to raise income wherever possible. This allows us to financially support our charitable purpose of conserving wildlife and habitats, while maintaining our visitor facilities and providing excellent, inspiring experiences for our visitors. The income generated through the car parking charges will contribute to the ongoing cost of running the facilities visitors use at Marshside, including reserve entry for all those arriving in that car and use of all visitor facilities (which includes the car park, visitor centre, toilets, trails and hides). It also supports the vital conservation work we carry out here to help wildlife. RSPB members will of course receive free car parking as a thank you for regularly supporting our nature conservation work – why not join the RSPB today and get free entry to all RSPB nature reserves. Additionally, from summer 2019, a gate will be installed at the entrance to the car park at Marshside. It will mean that the car park is locked of an evening, open during the visitor centre opening hours of 8.30am-5pm, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, we have anti-social behaviour taking place in the car park at night, including a large amount of littering, so we hope that by making the car park inaccessible outside of opening hours, we can discourage this. We appreciate that these hours are not always ideal for those wishing to visit the reserve in the early mornings and evenings. In future, we hope to be able to extend these hours if we can get some additional volunteer help in spring and summer, to support with locking up overnight. We are a small team here, so currently staffing this later is not practical. If you would be interested in becoming a car park attendant volunteer, helping on our conservation work parties, or becoming a guide in our hide, then we’d love to hear from you: Ribble.email@example.com Marshside by David Morris
Thanks to funding from Biffa Award , we are taking even more birds under our wing on the Ribble Estuary after recently purchasing Crossens Inner Marsh, a wet grassland area adjacent to Marshside. The marsh, which is already home to over-wintering birds such as wigeons , pink-footed geese , black-tailed godwits and golden plovers , covers an area about the size of 38 football pitches. Over £464,000 funding from Biffa Award enabled us to purchase the land recently and will also fund major improvements to the marsh, which will benefit rare and unusual wildlife including nesting lapwings , redshanks , and avocets – which are the emblem of the RSPB, along with brown hares . The habitat works, which will take place after the breeding season this summer, will also improve the control of water levels on the reserve helping to prevent prolonged flooding of the rare coastal grassland. Avocet by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com) Purchasing Crossens Inner Marsh is the final piece of the jigsaw for us, not only as an extension to our well known Marshside reserve, but also in the completion of the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve (NNR) . We’re working in partnership here with Natural England who oversee England’s NNRs, which enables us to do more for nature by creating opportunities for bigger, better and more joined-up management of these vital wild spaces. Much of the wider Ribble Estuary is managed as England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top 10 most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here. Some have travelled thousands of miles from the north to spend the winter months, others choose the area in spring and summer to raise their families, whilst some live here all year round. Our new site at Crossens Inner Marsh, and indeed the whole of the Ribble Estuary NNR, is home to a range of incredible creatures that thrive in this harsh environment. In addition to sheltering birds and mammals from human disturbance, the site is stuffed with mini-beasts, which provide a feast for wetland birds. The marsh also benefits people, by reducing the flood risk from the sea to homes and businesses. Sadly, much of the coastal grassland in this country has been lost to human developments and it is further threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change, making this place crucial to protect. We’re so thankful to Biffa Award for the funding that has allowed us to purchase and improve Crossens Inner Marsh for nature and for people. Gillian French, Biffa Award Head of Grants, said: “It is really important that we continue to support projects like this which provide and enhance habitats for a wide range of species. We can’t wait to see even more birds using the site following the improvements.” We’re excited to see how this site blossoms for nature over the coming years. Map of Marshside showing the addition of Crossen Inner Marsh highlighted in yellow
Whilst Rimmer’s marsh is completely dry we have closed Nel’s hide. We are taking this opportunity to make some repairs in the hide and give it a repaint. We will be re-opening the hide within the next couple of weeks at the end of the school holidays….
This is a blog about the happenings and sightings at RSPB Marshside, a nature reserve on the Ribble estuary near Southport. It’s been a busy spring and summer season so far – with lots of work being done by our warden team and volunteers to maintain the anti-predator fence around Sutton’s marsh. The fence works by excluding foxes and badgers from the reserve, in order to protect ground nesting birds (such as lapwings and avocets ) during the breeding season. We’ve also been doing lots of surveys to see how successful the wildlife is doing, and if there is anything more we can do to help them! Lapwing nest by Will Fox. This is a lapwing nest we found earlier in the season. We’ve had a good number of lapwing nests appearing this year, but sadly we aren’t seeing many chicks reaching fledgling stage. Predation is likely to be the biggest factor in this, with gulls, crows and even an otter seen on the marsh taking eggs and chicks. On Rimmer’s marsh (the side without a predator fence), a family of foxes has taken up residence, offering great views of the vixen hunting, but also sadly reducing the number of young birds we’re seeing. It’s not all bad news though, as we move into the summer we’re beginning to see some of the fruits of all our hard work. Young avocets can occasionally be seen on the saltmarsh and at Hesketh Out Marsh – many are at adult size now but their wings and back still appear more brown and patchy, rather than crisply defined black and white. Great views of some tufted ducklings can be seen from our visitor centre, as well as many young black-headed gull chicks, swallows and starlings. Over at Hesketh Out Marsh, our tern rafts have been successful with two arctic tern nests successfully hatching chicks, and a further two nests near Karen’s viewpoint. There are also regular groups of black tailed godwits, dunlin and an eider duck frequenting the site. Work is progressing well on the East side, where Environment Agency contractors are creating new ditches and pools that will be flooded in September when we breach the sea wall. This will create a new area of rich saltmarsh habitat, as well as helping with flood alleviation and providing great views of wildlife. Tern raft (pre-nesting season) by Will Fox – we cover the base with a mixture of sand, stone and shells, which terns like to nest on, as well as little wooden shelters for the chicks to hide under. Some slightly rarer visitors to Marshside include a male scaup and several adult cattle egrets. It’s a great time of year for moths and butterflies, with hundreds of colourful burnet moths out on the sunnier days. You can identify them by counting the spots on each wing – I’ve spotted lots of six-spot burnet moths, but how many spots have you spotted!?
It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog and there has been all kinds going on…….the breeding season is now in full swing. Lapwing have been nesting around the reserve, they have been quite early this year so keep your eyes peeled for their downy chicks wandering around the marshes pecking at everything they come across. Avocet have also taken up residence outside of Sandgrounder’s hide, giving possibly the best views around (in my unbiased opinion). Avocet from Sandgrounder’s by Barry Smith There was a brief visit by a spoonbill , the cattle egrets have been taking a look at the new influx of cows out on the marsh and last week I was driving home along Marshside Road and spotted a hooded crow sitting on a fence post preening itself, these birds seldom move more than a few kilometres and generally breed in North-west Scotland and Ireland……there have been a number of sightings logged around the reserve so I definitely wasn’t seeing things. Elsewhere we’ve been treated to plenty of warbler song – whitethroat , cetti’s warbler , blackcap , reed warbler and grasshopper warbler have all been belting out their favourite tunes. It also looks like the cuckoo has arrived back, a few sightings have been reported around the sand plant area. There have been the usual residents along the golf course by Fairclough’s viewpoint – great tit and blue tit have been busy nesting but we’ve also had redpoll , pied flycatcher and a tree pipit . Great Tit by Barry Smith Rimmer’s Marsh has been busy, common sandpiper , ruff (spotted lekking at the weekend) ringed plover, little grebe and a number of pairs of gadwall . Sutton’s marsh is a noisy place with huge numbers of black-headed gulls nesting, we’ve still got a few Mediterranean gulls and a common gull has also been sighted. The cold weather has been keeping the butterflies at bay but I did see a couple out in the warm sunshine this morning, peacock , small tortoiseshell and speckled wood . Speckled wood by Barry Smith Unfortunately my internship has come to an end and future recent sightings blogs will be provided by our next batch of interns. Marshside has been an amazing place to work and six months has flown by……it all started with thousands of whistling wigeon on a cold November and has finished with thousands of screaming black headed gulls on a warm sunny April afternoon…….with plenty of brilliant experiences in between. I hope you’ve found this blog useful and please continue to enjoy the wildlife spectacle that is Marshside.
Our summer visitors are continuing to return in large numbers to Marshside – the last week has seen wheatear , sand martin , house martin and swallow making a comeback along with a few of our favorite warblers…… chiffchaff , blackcap and willow warbler have all been seen (or heard) around the reserve. It was a slightly overcast day when I found the time to see what’s been about, once again there were plenty of pink footed geese feeding in flocks around the reserve. Pretty soon they will have moved on northwards to their breeding grounds so enjoy them while you can!! Pink footed geese in flight by Barry Smith There are still plenty of wading birds to enjoy, from Sandgrounder’s hide you can expect to see oystercatcher , black-tailed godwit , redshank and lot’s of lapwing . There have been a number of ruff seen around the reserve so keep your eye out for ‘lekking’ males – April is the time for this impressive sight and you may be lucky, Britain is just on the edge of it’s breeding range. A little ringed plover has been seen at the sand plant, and behind in the outer marshes there have been marsh harrier , merlin and peregrine – further out still we have had a few eider ducks bobbing along the edge of high tide. Fairclough’s Pool by Barry Smith Little grebe have been busy around Nel’s pool with large numbers of tufted duck and shelduck while out towards the golf course we have seen sparrowhawk , great spotted woodpecker and jay preparing for the breeding season. And finally this week I’m giving special mention to the collared dove – for no other reason than the fact that it let me get so close to it and I got a great picture…. Collared dove by Barry Smith
I’m going to start this weeks blog by giving a mention to our early emerging butterflies, I spotted two species while I was out on the marsh this afternoon – Glorious sunshine possibly bringing them out of hibernation. The first was a peacock butterfly, unmistakable with it’s menacing eyes shining brightly in the sun…. Peacock butterfly by Barry Smith And the second was a number of small tortoiseshell feeding along the bank by the golf course – this butterfly has suffered a worrying decline in recent years with a number of theories being offered, one such theory is an increase in the presence of a parasitic fly which also attacks other species such as peacock and red admiral . Small tortoiseshell butterfly by Barry Smith On the bird front it has been business as usual, with large numbers of pink footed geese being seen on the outer marshes, one of our volunteers counted around 4500 over at Hesketh out marsh so it appears they are hanging around the Ribble estuary for a bit longer. We’ve had a number of swallows spotted flying over Rimmer’s marsh and a couple of wheatear sightings – avocet , redshank and black-tailed godwit are also busy feeding out on Suttons marsh (and hopefully getting ready to breed). Redshank by Barry Smith A small flock of around 14 twite has been seen and the number of mediterranean gulls being reported from Sandgrounder’s hide continues to increase. I’ve noticed a drop in raptor activity this week, buzzard and sparrowhawk have been hunting around the reserve and just as impressive there has also been a raven patrolling the edges of Suttons marsh. Lapwing have once again been providing impressive barrel rolls and aerial acrobatics while other sightings include ruff , gadwall , wigeon , teal and little egret . Lapwing by Barry Smith I will finish off this weeks list with goldfinch , goldcrest , long tailed tit and meadow pipit……
The most exciting time of the year is upon us and the movement is on………the departure of our winter visitors is underway and the summer migrants are beginning to appear – along with numerous early flying bees and butterflies. Colt’s foot is starting to push it’s way through bringing a splash of yellow around the reserve and avocet numbers are continuing to increase, with around 50 currently dividing their time between Nel’s pool and Rainford’s pool. Colt’s foot by Barry Smith Wigeon numbers have dropped considerably over the last week or two, as have the pink footed geese, they are still around but in noticeably smaller flocks . A chiffchaff has been singing it’s summer song and there have been a group of goldcrest moving around the reserve, busily flitting around in the trees by Nel’s hide and Sandgrounder’s. There have been some really big flocks of golden plover (1000+) and black tailed godwit (1500+) and a tundra bean goose has once again been seen on the outer marshes. A number of stonechat have been seen around the edge of the reserve, I was lucky to catch one while I took a walk to Fairclough’s view point last Friday. Stonechat by Barry Smith Other notable sightings this week are water pipit , a flock of 20 pied wagtail feeding on Crossens out marsh, ruff , little grebe and snipe along with a vast array of raptors – buzzard , merlin , kestrel , peregrine and sparrowhawk. Round and about there are plenty of teal , gadwall , tufted duck and a good number of mute swans – What a glorious day it’s been today, bright blue skies and a nice bit of spring sunshine……sure beats being in the office. Springtime from Fairclough’s by Barry Smith Long may it continue!!
First things first, our avocets have well and truly returned!! On 2 nd March there were six reported at Hesketh out marsh and another six were reported from Nel’s hide. Hot off the press today is a revised total of twelve avocets at Marshside, all of which were identified at Nel’s pool. Avocets at Nel’s by Barry Smith There have been numerous sightings of water pipit this week, including two seen together on Crossens out marsh – they are one of our more scarce winter visitors so it’s nice to see that they are sticking around. Black headed gulls are continuing to gather noisily with around 300 at Rainford’s pool, keep an eye out for the mediterranean gulls hidden amongst them. Black headed gulls by Barry Smith Other notable species this week include an influx of mute swans and four whooper swans , a water rail has been seen in the ditch on Rimmer’s marsh and we have had a good number of pied wagtail and grey wagtail . I took a walk along the road out into the saltmarsh this afternoon, accompanied by the song of sky larks . It was a couple of hours before high tide but there were some large flocks of waders already being forced inland by the on rushing water. Small mixed flocks of dunlin , knot and grey plover were feeding in the mud nearby – offering great views through the scope, with a good number of curlew and redshank searching further out. Shelduck and oystercatcher were also busy along the shoreline and a single turnstone was sitting quite still amongst the tussocks. Unfortunately I couldn’t wait for the tide to make it to it’s high point as the wind and rain sent me back to the van. On my way back I noticed 14 little egrets were feeding together along the ditch near the main car park. A last glance over my shoulder confirmed that there were lots of birds along the water line and taking flight out towards the estuary……I’ll get back when the weather is kinder!!