Brilliant Boost for Bitterns

 Despite the reserve currently being closed to the public, there is still plenty going on behind the scenes at RSPB Leighton Moss! 

Our wardening team have been as busy as ever, still catching up with jobs they were unable to do during the first lockdown as well as cracking on with seasonal tasks that are priorities at this time of year. One of the main projects currently underway (when water levels allow, at least!) is the mammoth construction of the large cell-bed in the south-eastern section of the main reserve.

This project involves the construction of a 600 metre bund, made from clay and earth, which will result in an overall 9 hectare cell area. There will be a sluice structure installed to control water both entering and leaving this cell which will allow us to manage water levels within the project area, independently of those on the wider nature reserve.

This work, funded in-part by EDF Energy and the Lancashire Environmental Fund, will produce ideal ditch and shallow pool habitat for eels as well as improving overall water quality by isolating the new cell from the main reedbed for much of the year. 

European eel is one of the fish species most severely affected by over-fishing in recent decades. This, combined with habitat degradation, barriers to migration (such as weirs) and reductions in water quality in many European wetlands and waterways, is having a major impact on the global eel population. Of course, eels are critical components in the food chain on a site such as Leighton Moss and are essential to the success of bitterns.    

 Our warden Richard Miller says: “The purpose of this dynamic project is to create a hydrologically independent cell within the Leighton Moss reedbed with deep ditches and pool features. This is essential, as reedbeds are transient habitats that will deteriorate without ongoing maintenance.”

He adds: “The key aim is to accelerate the rejuvenation of habitats at on the nature reserve for struggling wetland wildlife, particularly two threatened species – bittern and European eel - and to ensure the site continues to be the great wildlife experience that visitors come to experience and enjoy.  It is also an essential BETTER element in the principles of BIGGER, BETTER, more CONNECTED set out in the government white paper 'Making Space for Nature'; principles which drive our efforts within the wider Morecambe Bay Local Nature Partnership area and the RSPB Priority Landscape, that encompass Leighton Moss and its satellites sites.”

Having proven highly successful at other wetland sites, this cell-bed work will improve overall habitat for bitterns and it should result in increasing the number of these scarce reedbed dwellers at Leighton Moss in the years to come.