One of the interesting aspects of a foreign trip is to examine how wildlife reserves are managed away from the UK. As well as a tour of Cape May sites, we spent a couple of days visiting a dozen or more sites around Delaware Bay. So how does US management compare with UK management?
Firstly, the area of protected land in the US is remarkable, but it is a big country. There is not only an extensive system of Wildlife Refuges but also numerous major wetland restoration schemes. The Estuary Enhancement Scheme around the bay has aimed to restore functional tidal flow to marshes, resulting in huge areas of Cord-grass (Spartina) dominated saltmarsh. Since the introduction of regular tidal flushing at the restored 243 ha Little Creek, the saline mudflats within the impoundment have been heavily used by shorebirds (especially Short-billed Dowitchers and sandpipers) in spring and autumn, especially at high tide when the estuary mudflats are unavailable to them. The site has a monthly flooding regime during passage periods before deeper flooding in winter. Grass shrimps are abundant and these and the resident fish form the food base for waterfowl and wading birds. It is also now more heavily used by Snow Geese (up to 300,000) feeding on the abundant growth of Spartina. Not many of these restored sites seem to have much ongoing management though, resulting in rapid vegetation growth and a resultant loss of open habitat.
The Wildlife Refuges at Bombay Hook and Forsythe have bunded fresh and brackish lagoons. These sites are so large (Bombay Hook is 6,500 ha) that the main access is via a car route, with walking trails and viewing platforms around the site. Maintaining the populations of migratory waterfowl is a major objective at the refuges. The freshwater lagoons are drained down in spring, providing muddy areas for waders. During the summer, emergent plants grow across the lagoons, providing abundant food for waterbirds when the lagoons are re-flooded in the autumn. This practice of Moist Soil Management is widely used in the US. In addition, 450 ha of the refuge are planted with crops such as winter wheat, buckwheat and grass/clover leys specifically to provide food for waterbirds. Some of these areas are flooded. We don’t do much of this in the UK. Most of these sites have high viewing platforms. They provide good, high, long distance viewing but rarely any close views of birds.
So how does the UK differ? Well our smaller nature reserves receive more intensive management of the habitats (perhaps too much in some cases). Where we restore or create new sites, habitat designs tend to maximise the value of a site, maybe again a reflection of the smaller areas we have to work with. Our reserves also tend to get people closer to the wildlife, either through site design or the range of infrastructure provided. All of this can be seen in the design and management of a reserve such as Minsmere.
Richard Crossley’s vision is to bring these ideas together to create the best of both worlds. After looking at the pending restoration of Pond Creek Marsh at Cape May, we met with Dave Golden, the Chief of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife for some excellent discussion on possible designs. Perhaps we might see the Pond Creek restoration take on a more UK site feel. Likewise, perhaps we’ll see some US ideas popping up on this side of the pond.
Pics from top: Western Sandp, Little Creek, viewing platform, Forsythe, ducks, Minsmere.