Habitat Improvement at Summer Leys

Birders recently visiting Summer Leys in search of autumn migrants cannot have failed to notice a significant change in its appearance.  Last week saw the completion of the reprofiling of the scrape there – a much welcomed move designed to improve this important habitat for both breeding and passage waders.

This short project, which was completed in little more than a week, was specified and managed by Steve Brayshaw on behalf of the Wildlife Trust following the last major reprofiling there in October 2007. Additional works took place in September 2008 with perimeter banks being raised and a new water control structure installed to ensure all the scrape islands could be completely flooded in the winter. This proved to be extremely worthwhile as 2009 was an excellent season for breeding waders, with at least three or four pairs of Little Ringed Plovers, eleven to twelve pairs of Lapwings and two pairs of Redshanks all raising young. Since then, however, breeding numbers have declined with, for instance, just three to four pairs of Lapwings breeding there this year.

At the time of the 2008 reprofiling the scrape was also found to be suffering from an infestation of Crassula helmsii (otherwise known as New Zealand Pygmyweed or Australian Swamp Stonecrop). This invasive non-native species is virtually impossible to control effectively and still remains a problem.

Summer Leys scrape: the view from Pioneer Hide before reprofiling (Steve Brayshaw)

Summer Leys scrape: the view from Pioneer Hide before reprofiling (Steve Brayshaw)

Summer Leys scrape: view from hide after reprofiling (Steve Brayshaw)

Summer Leys scrape: view from hide after reprofiling (Steve Brayshaw)

The primary purpose of the recent works was to restore the scrape to the 2008 profile – to improve habitat for breeding waders and to raise the potential for passage waders. All the vegetation (including Crassula) on the scrape islands and the majority of the margins has been scraped back to bare earth and willow saplings have been removed.  Great care has been taken to ensure that Crassula does not spread outside the scrape, including cleaning down the machinery before it was moved to the next site.

Two small reedbeds have been retained but the reedbed in front of the Pioneer hide has been removed to restore the view! The water level at the time of the works was approximately thirty centimetres lower than it was when reprofiling was completed in 2008, so the channels between the islands have also be deepened slightly to increase the extent of wet margins. Heavy rain since the works were complete is already washing sand and silt out of the reprofiled soils to reveal areas of bare gravel.

Subject to the completion of other habitat management elsewhere on the reserve, including the removal of vegetation on Gull, Hawthorn, Round and Rotary Islands, the water level in the scrape will be raised by around 30cm over the next month to increase the extent of mud and shallows before the scrape is completely flooded again over the winter to suppress further vegetation growth.

Hopefully we can look forward to record numbers of breeding waders in 2014 and an excellent wader passage, with the added bonus of a rare vagrant or two. A pair of Black-winged Stilts turned up in May 2008 following the last round of reprofiling so watch this space!

Many thanks to Steve Brayshaw for the current and historical details used in the above post 
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5 Responses to Habitat Improvement at Summer Leys

  1. Personally I think it’s just a small part of “more work needed”. I watched and talked to Steve whilst this work was going on and I know how hard of a problem the New Zealand pygmyweed was to deal with and I get the impression that alone might be an ongoing problem.
    The odd thing about the lack of wader succes on the scrape in my opinion has been water levels (flooding “just” at the wrong time) so hopefully the reprofiling will help, I run the risk of upsetting some with the next statement but I believe where possible the water levels (dropping of the levels) should be better controlled, regulars at Sleys will know of the “annual” debate in the hides of when the levels should be dropped or shouldn’t be dropped, I feel sorry for the man who has to do it, as often it seems to be a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Hopefully the re-profiled scrape will stop the flooding and the dominant BH gulls taking over giving more space for the waders…BUT from my daily observations there is two other problem that might prove uncomfortable for the Trust to deal with 1)predation, on 16 visits this I saw a very active fox succesfully predate both Lapwing and Gulls on each visit but also eggs being robbed by both Crow and Jackdaws 2) the number of visitors, twice this summer I’ve had to poke my head at of the hide to “tell” people of for wandering out onto the scrape, one was two adults and three kids trying to have a picnic!!! and the other was someone trying to photograph the birds and orchids around the scrape…..sorry fro the long comment Mike, but I do think Steve and the contractors done a great job with very little disturbance (surprisingly) despite the downpours, is it time for a full time warden?

    • Mike Alibone says:

      Thanks, Doug. I would imagine a full time warden is unlikely to be on th cards as a) the reserve is really quite small and b) the funding may not stretch that far but who knows …

  2. Nick Parker says:

    Always fascinating to hear the background thinking behind local site improvements. It just goes to show how many invasive plants are already at large in our countryside. Any news on what the Trust have planned for Thrapston GP as I see diggers are on site.

    • Mike Alibone says:

      I don’t know what, if anything, is happening at Thrapston but Clifford Hill GP is getting a reprofiled peninsular as we speak! It’s going to be difficult to keep the usual disturbance causers away from the water’s edge, though.

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