Alton Water wildlife team wins award

One good turn deserves another they say.

It’s a sentiment the dedicated team of volunteers at Alton Water reservoir near Ipswich would no doubt echo, having won a national award, at least in part, for their work to help the common tern.

Despite their name, these silvery-grey seabirds are less common than they once were, with numbers declining during the 20th Century.

Luckily, terns are adaptable. While their natural habitat is on rocky shores and shingle beaches, they will happily nest on manmade rafts in lakes and reservoirs and this has allowed some colonies to thrive away from the coast.

Several shingle-covered tern rafts have been floated out on to Alton Water by the volunteers who help look after the wildlife at the Anglian Water site. The results have been spectacular.


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Before the rafts were installed no common terns had bred successfully at Alton Water. Last year 107 chicks were ringed at the reservoir.

While those young birds will be spending their first summer in their West African wintering grounds, their parents will already be heading back to Suffolk. There they will dive for fish in the Stour and Orwell estuaries and nest in the safety of the reservoir, where they will add to the wildlife spectacle on offer.

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Visitors can watch the terns on their rafts from the bird hides on the shores of the reservoir, as well as the oyster catchers, coots and geese which also make use of the floating nest sites.

People can also enjoy a three-mile nature trail, again developed with the volunteers, which takes in woodland, a butterfly garden, a wildflower meadow, conservation areas and ponds.

Little wonder then, that the reservoir picked up a gong in the annual Business Bird Challenge.

Run by the British Trust for Ornithology and energy company EDF, the awards set out to find out which of the UK’s industrial and business sites are best for wildlife.

Alton Water won the Community Award in the Large Wetland category and the judges heaped praise on the volunteers there, calling their work with the terns “exceptional”.

Kate Aldridge, the challenge organiser, said: “Many industrial sites in this country are havens for wildlife and the BTO – EDF Energy Business Bird Challenge is a wonderful opportunity for the British Trust for Ornithology to showcase what industry is doing to enhance biodiversity.

“We offer our congratulations to all those involved in the management of Alton Water; they are making a major contribution to conservation in the UK and thoroughly deserve this award.”

For more than 10 years now much of the wildlife enhancement around Alton has been as a direct result of the hard work of a dedicated team of volunteers from the local community.

As well as the bird hides, tern rafts and nature trial, major projects include the construction of breeding areas for harvest mice, reptiles and amphibians, as well as habitat management of woodlands and grassland.

Locally produced timber has been used for additional seating and for boardwalks across sensitive wetland areas.

Regular monitoring of the wildlife plays a vital part in deciding on how to manage the site and provides important data for national surveys.

John Clare from Anglian Water said: “It’s always nice to have your work recognised and I hope the volunteers at Alton feel rightly proud of what they have achieved.

“We’d like to offer our heartfelt thanks to all of those volunteers who have put in so much time and effort and who have helped make Alton the fantastic place it is.”

Indeed, Alton Water is a fantastic place to visit over the Easter holidays and not just for the wildlife.

As the largest water park in Suffolk, Alton Water already attracts 130,000 visitors a year, but with 400 acres of open space is big enough to offer everyone the space to walk, jog and cycle or just sit and watch the world go by.

Cyclists can enjoy an eight-mile, car free route through the site as well as a pit stop at one of the picnic sites or cafes. Even if you do not own a bike you can always buy or hire one on site, as well as getting any punctures fixed.

Those on foot have ten miles of tracks to explore, while fishing and water sports open up access to the water itself. The Watersports Centre offers excellent sailing and windsurfing facilities and is a Royal Yachting Association registered school.

So, why not get out there and explore?

If you would like to know more about the volunteers and their work you can visit www.altonwildlife.co.uk

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