Exminster Marshes - update from reserve

The reserve is unfortunately looking quite dry at the moment as a result of the hot, dry weather in May and June. Despite this, some areas remain wet and there have been three species of wader recorded with successful breeding on site.

Lockdown has made reserve management difficult and quite restrictive in terms of what we can or cannot do. In some cases, management activities have become impossible. We have been operating with extremely limited staffing since lockdown on 23rd March, since we had to wave goodbye to our full-time residential volunteers, and our work party and most individual volunteering activities had to stop. We are still a long way from normal staffing capacity.

On top of lockdown and minimal staffing, Steve and I both only started in our roles (Warden and Site Manager respectively) just before lockdown. This has meant that there is a lot for us to get our heads round, and there are many things on the list of management objectives that we’d really like to achieve but probably won’t be able to this year.

So far, we’ve had to focus all of the limited on-reserve time we’ve had into ‘essential’ work: animal welfare, security, health and safety, legal compliance and delivery of agri-environment schemes. For us this has mainly been ensuring the welfare and security of grazing animals, and any essential work under our Countryside Stewardship scheme. We have put a particularly huge amount of effort into maintaining our electric fences recently to contain cattle as well as stop predators getting into core areas.

We are also still working to re-open our sites and are starting to welcome back volunteers, and along with that comes a whole raft of covid-19 measures that we need to ensure are in place for the health and safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors.

We have begun to try to get our heads round the many dams, sluices, drop boards, gates and pipes that make up the interconnected waterways of Exminster, but there is an awful lot for us to get our heads round. Unfortunately, there are also some issues with the new water control structures and scrapes in the fields adjacent to the canal, which we will be having the contractors back to look at. We are reserving some lagoon water for troubleshooting the issues so we can get this right. A lot of money was spent on the new features and we’re not happy to leave it as an unresolved issue which will compromise reserve management objectives for many years to come.

As we learn more about the water control structures on site we’ll be prioritising water distribution to core areas such as within the predator fences or where we think it can have best effect based on knowledge of nests and juvenile waders. Hopefully timings will also line up and we will be able to direct water into the new scrapes for autumn wader passage alongside our testing, snagging and fixing.

 We’re well aware that many parts of the reserve are very dry after the dry spring we’ve had, but at the moment it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to address this particular issue given the other priorities we have, the situation we’re in and the reduced resources at our disposal.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. We are doing our best.

RSPB Reserves manager

Posted June 26th, 2020 at 11:40 am by Mike Langman in Bird News