It’s very satisfying to again see people working hard to improve habitat in our river valley wetlands! Following last year’s reprofiling of the peninsula on Clifford Hill Gravel Pits’ main lake, Northampton Washlands, and before that, the scrape at Summer Leys LNR, a new project has recently been completed to create habitat for wildfowl and waders further along the Nene Valley at Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows.
The far eastern end of the old Ditchford Gravel Pits complex has just gone under the knife but the resultant effect is far more than simply cosmetic. The area has SSSI and SPA designations for overwintering wetland birds and, as there is floodplain meadow grassland adjoining some of the lakes, Natural England asked the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire (Wildlife BCN) to prioritise work on the lakes and grasslands either side of the King’s Meadow Lane cycle path.
Ian Wilson, Reserves Officer, Wildlife BCN said “The management aims were pretty simple: to improve the site for overwintering ducks and waders by visually reconnecting the grassland to the lakes, starting summer grazing of the grassland to create a shorter sward, helping water to move through the site and off the grassland rather than being dammed by the cycle path and sitting on the grassland for months at a time and creating additional high quality habitat by providing scrapes and an island.”
Throughout September 2013 and 2014 contractors, staff and volunteers all removed huge amounts of ten-year-old self-set willow from the grasslands, lake margins and ditch banks. The willow was burnt on site and the stumps treated to minimise re-growth.
Over a two year period fencing and grazing infrastructure has been installed ready for grazing the site in spring 2015. This fencing also creates a disturbance-free area as it excludes dogs and people from the vicinity of the most wildlife-sensitive lakes.
In July 2014 a bridge was installed and a channel cut across the cycle path to allow water to move on and off the site more quickly as well as clearing the back channel to help water flow through site.
In early August, Western Power removed three of the four lines of power cables crossing the grassland and lakes. These have been routed underground after a year of digging and mess and the fourth line will be removed next year. The removal of a large number of predator perches increases the potential for ground-nesting birds to use the grassland area to breed as well as eliminating bird-strikes on the wires and improving the look of the site no end.
The RSPB rotary ditcher was used to create a series of level foot-drains to allow water to flow on and off the grassland as well as creating good wader habitat.
Under Steve Brayshaw‘s direction, contractors removed a large ridge of soil which was trapping floodwater on the grassland and visually separating the lake from the grassland. Steve also designed the scrape and island work from the planning phase some years ago to completion this September, managed the contractors on site and ensured the job came in on budget. Steve also gave much invaluable advice and consultative assistance with the back channel clearing, the bridge and channel on the cycle path and numerous other facets of the project.
The resulting bare ground now drops very gradually from the meadow to the lake and includes a couple of scrape areas as well as a very gently varying topography to create numerous small wet areas. At the same time a tree-covered spit was cleared, lowered and cut off from the mainland to create a new island in the middle of the lake.
Finally Ian’s team have cut some viewing ‘windows’ in the hedge along the old railway track to let people see across the area they have been working on as well as improving the state of the path along the old railway. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sita.
Good numbers of Common Snipe and around four hundred each of Lapwing and Golden Plover last week serve to demonstrate that the scrape works are achieving their aims already! Hopefully once the weather gets colder we will see an increase in the number of ducks too.
Don’t forget the lakeside and meadow habitat is just one of many as there are some good mature hedges, mixed scrub, reed fringes, wet woodland and plenty of willow left to attract a broad spectrum of avian and other wildlife.
Access The site map below provides a general overview of the area and the few yellow dots indicate where best to view the main area of improvement.
Today’s photo – the first of the series above – was taken from the dot midway between the 11 and 12 labels. Note that the path around wader flats is prone to flooding and is often wet and slippery. The old railway and the new greenway are much better all-weather surfaces from which to explore the area. The site can be accessed most easily from Station Road at the Stanwick GP Lakes end or from St Peter’s way near to the town centre car park.
Many thanks to Ian Wilson for providing commentary, photographs and the map and to Steve Brayshaw for additional detail and photographs.