The Wadden Sea islands in The Netherlands are remarkable for both migrant and breeding birds. Texel, at the southern end of the chain is perhaps the best known of the islands and has high levels of conservation management. In 2010 the Dutch conservation organisation Natuurmonumenten created a new nature reserve on Texel. The reserve is a 28 ha brackish lagoon behind the seawall adjacent to the Wadden Sea. Formerly a grass field in agriculture, the land was excavated to create a series of islands in a shallowly flooded lagoon. Around 84,000 m3 of soil was removed and 2,000 m3 of cockle shells brought in to cover some of the islands, which were a mix of grass, shell and mud. Seawater can enter the lagoon at high water via a sluice.
We visited Utopia in 2011 and were duly impressed. The site already supported good numbers of breeding Common (600 pairs), Arctic (60) and Little Terns (54), Avocets (73) and Ringed Plovers (10). Black-headed Gulls (200 pairs), Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Redshank and Eider also breed. Spoonbills feed in the lagoon and passage and wintering waders use the lagoon for both roosting and feeding. Terns and other seabirds have a distinct advantage on Texel; the island has virtually no mammalian predators apart from a few Stoats. This was evident at our first stop; a Sandwich Tern colony of some 1200 pairs, easily accessible by ground predators but with hundreds of chicks. Even crows seemed scarce, apparently kept in check by the resident Goshawks.
This type of habitat is sadly lacking in the UK, with coastal habitats under severe pressure from human activities and sea level rise. However, we are now well on the way to creating our own ‘Utopias’. The first, an 18 ha freshwater lagoon on the Suffolk coast will be excavated and functioning by the end of the year. The project will excavate 16000 m3 of soil and create a mosaic of grass, bare mud and islands topped with 2000 m3 of shingle for nesting and roosting birds. The site will have an anti-predator fence around the perimeter. More to follow but in the meanwhile...this is the Dutch Utopia.