Reports, with Bird Lists, of our Meetings, Walks and Outings

AGM then Creating Wetlands for the Future
a talk by Malcolm Ausden

Date: Thursday 17 May 2018 at 19:30


Twenty people attended this meeting at which the 44th AGM was held.

The full minutes of the AGM are available here as a .DOC  and  available here as a .PDF

The key event was the election of Kate Titford as Group Leader replacing Ken Cottam with immediate effect. Sheila Cottam stepped down from the Group Secretary role and Sandy Studd was elected to the committee to serve in this role. Ken and Sheila were presented with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine as thanks from the group for taking on the responsibilities of leader and secretary over the past 16 months.

Following the AGM Ken Cottam welcomed Malcolm Ausden, Principal Ecologist at the RSPB who gave a presentation entitled Creating Wetlands for the Future. Malcolm is responsible for the RSPB policy on developing and managing wetlands and his presentation gave an insight into the current policies and the reasons behind them. He also showed us what was actually happening on several large new wetland developments.

The major driving forces behind the RSPB’s policies are the anticipated effects of climate change and  species hunted to extinction in the UK that are trying to recolonise.

Climate change is anticipated to result in much wetter winters, much warmer and drier summers and more extreme weather events leading to flooding. Sea levels are likely to rise and tidal surges to increase in size, leading to greater erosion of our coastal defences and inundation of coastal freshwater wetlands with seawater.

There is already evidence that some anticipated changes are beginning, although computer predictions of the severity of these changes for northern Asia and Europe suggest that the UK is likely to be less severely affected than most other areas, particularly north east Europe.

Freshwater wetlands in the UK are a particular problem for the RSPB, as there are not many sites remaining; almost all sites left are coastal which means they are threatened by seawater flooding and also by developments.

One policy the RSPB is following is to try to develop inshore wetlands away from the seawater threat. The Ouse Washes is one major site where the management of freshwater over a large area is designed to offer maximum habitat for nesting wetland species and maintain healthy reedbeds.

Ham Wall reserve is another freshwater site. It has been developed on peat cutting sites, specifically for wetland species. The design expects some winter flooding but avoids excess summer floods to protect nesting species. It also maximises the amount of margins between freshwater and banks of vegetation to increase cover and feeding areas.

The RSPB's two major coastal wetland creation schemes are Wallasea Island in Essex and Medmerry in West Sussex. Medmerry was relatively simple, the old sea wall was breached allowing the sea into a large area of low flat land, thus creating a large tidal lagoon, and a new sea wall was built to contain the waters in the lagoon.

Wallasea Island was a very different and difficult issue. Just like Medmerry the coastal sea wall defences were considered not to be viable in the long-term so allowing the sea to breach the defences and the creation of a tidal lagoon area was bowing to the inevitable. Wallasea island was so low that very little tidal mudflats or tidal vegetation would have been created.

Fortunately the Crossrail project tunnel under London created millions of tons of unwanted spoil material which was transported to Wallasea. It has been used to create a high contoured area; designed by the RSPB to provide a wide variety of habitats once the sea wall was breached. This includes freshwater storage areas to provide a constant supply of freshwater in summer to protect the large reedbeds and wet grassland areas.

Wallasea is due for completion in October 2018 and should develop into the flagship wetland reserve of the RSPB in the next three years. The priority species for the RSPB wetland development plans are; bittern, redshank, curlew, ringed plover and the birds attempting or forecast to attempt colonisation; little egret, great white egret, purple heron, night heron, bluethroat, glossy ibis, Kentish plover, cattle egret and black-winged stilt.

Only time will tell if the RSPB has correctly forecast future needs but it is certainly using modern data to try and anticipate the coming changes.

Malcolm gave us a very interesting and informative presentation.

Brian Clews reported on What’s About:

Cookham Moor – Up to four little egrets on the car park pond.

Winter Hill – lesser whitethroat and little owl calling this week (and green hairstreaks up there)

Little Marlow (nearest wader scrape) – Caspian gull, oystercatcher, greenshank, knot

Hungerford, Newbury, Brimpton, Reading – five ospreys in last week

Reading – Mediterranean gull on the Thames and at Theale Pits

Chieveley – probable Montagu’s harrier this week

Bicester and Sth Bucks (Grendon Underwood) – two wandering cranes – eyes to the skies!! (see report below)

Nightjar, tree pipit and spotted flycatchers all now sighted at various places.

Post-meeting note – On 18th May 2 cranes seen flying approx. 200 feet above the River Loddon east to west, they flew over the BP garage and then the George Pub towards Dinton Pastures. Perfect silhouettes of both birds flying alongside each other.

--- Original Programme Information ---

No entrance fee for this event.

A brief AGM, in which only group members may vote.

Followed by Creating wetlands for the future. To be presented by Malcolm Ausden, Principal Ecologist at the RSPB.

The Presentation

Wallasea Island under constructionConstruction of part of Wallasea Island Wild Coast

This presentation will first describe how the climate is expected to change during the next few decades, and how this is expected to affect the distributions of birds and other wildlife.  It will then consider the implications of these changes on the design and management of wetland nature reserves.

The second part of the presentation will provide examples of how the RSPB is taking into account expected rises in sea level, changes in rainfall, and changes in species’ distributions in the design and management of new wetland nature reserves, and describe the wildlife that these already support.  It will focus on the RSPB’s Wallasea Island Wild Coast in Essex, the largest coastal habitat re-creation projects ever attempted in the UK; the open coast managed realignment at Medmerry in Sussex; and the design and management of non-tidal wetlands such as Frampton Marsh RSPB Reserve in Lincolnshire.


Malcolm Ausden is Principal Ecologist at the RSPB.  His main role is to advise on the creation and management of the RSPB’s nature reserves throughout the UK.

Picture is © Copyright RSPB