Friday, 1 October 2010

St Aidan's down to Rainham

By any reckoning, St Aidan's is a large hole in the ground. Formerly one of the UK’s largest open cast coal mines (operated by UK Coal), this site, located alongside the River Aire to the east of Leeds, has now been re-landscaped to form a huge wetland complex of open water, wet grassland and reedbed; assessing the development of the latter was the aim of this latest stop on the reedbed tour.
We looked around this impressive restoration with the Swillington Ings Bird Group, who have been doing a good job monitoring the site. The new 50 hectare reedbed is on the cusp of doing great things; Bitterns and Marsh Harriers are eying up the site and will undoubtedly colonise within a couple of years. Electro-fishing revealed a fish community still in an early successional state – good numbers of Perch patchily distributed but little else other than Sticklebacks and a few Pike. However, the developing aquatic flora of Water-milfoils and Water-crowfoots on this poor subsoil substrate looked excellent. These early successional conditions are typically ideal for Dabchicks, with 56 broods reported this year. Four Marsh Harriers and a Red Kite circled over, a Bittern emerged from the ‘fishiest’ ditch, and waders were represented by Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Dunlin.

The final day of the week was spent in the wind and rain walking the ditch-lines of Rainham Marshes in order to come to a better understanding of how water flows around the site. The fixed facilities of a visitor-orientated nature reserve often conflict with the flexibility required to manage a site to its ecological potential. With new viewing facilities being constructed, the complex hydrology is in need of an overhaul. The aim is to work towards a more strategic and better use of the available water resources, and overall, provide better birding. Curlew, Rock Pipit and Med Gull appeared out of the driving rain.

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