Essex Wildlife Trust’s tidal triumph at Fingringhoe Wick
- Credit: Archant
Fingringhoe Wick’s famous nightingales may be thousands of miles away in Africa, but the Essex nature reserve rings to sensational sounds even in the depths of winter.
It’s not just what you see from the Margaret Hide at Essex Wildlife Trust’s Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve, although that is spectacular enough. It’s what you hear, too.
Time your visit right, just as the River Colne is rushing into the trust’s brilliantly designed and expertly created 22-hectare intertidal zone in which the hide stands, and your senses are given a treat. The sight of thousands of wading birds and wildfowl pouring into this great man-made amphitheatre is mesmerising and uplifting. And the soundscape is simply stunning.
The evocative cries of curlew, grey plover, redshank and their like create give a haunting rendition of the familiar winter-time signature tune that is played over and over on East Anglian estuaries. But, whether by chance or design, there is also a unique backdrop to this mud music. As the tide quickly covers the muddy expanse the Colne’s waters are forced across what appears for all the world to be a natural weir. As the waters negotiate this sudden change in the muddy topography a tinkling tune unlike any to be heard elsewhere is produced, against which the bird calls take on a yet more magical character.
Sight and sound combine in the most special of experiences - one that crowns the trust’s triumph of intertidal habitat creation which has now born such phenomenal fruit since its completion two years ago. The progress of the newly formed “arena” on which estuarine wildlife spectacles unfold with each change of the tide is a source of immense pride for the trust, which recently showcased the creation by giving eaenvironment a special viewing of the site.
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The new intertidal zone has been produced by breaching a 300-metre stretch of sea wall that formerly separated farmland from the Colne - at least for some of the time. The huge North Sea surge of December 2013 was one occasion when the farmland was inundated, and all the indications are that similar extreme events will re-occur thanks to climate change and sea level rise.
Realignment of the most vulnerable stretches of East Anglian sea wall has been seen as an effective - and, for wildlife, highly productive - method of management and protection. The trust gained valuable experience of the method in 2002, when it worked on a trailblazing managed realignment project at its Abbotts Hall Farm at Great Wigborough.
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Armed with the expertise it had gained, the trust bought vulnerable land adjacent to its existing Fingringhoe Wick reserve - effectively doubling the reserve’s size - and formed a partnership with the Environment Agency to breach the sea wall and create the intertidal habitat, with saltmarsh, mudflat and tidal lagoon as well as an additional reedbed.
As the work was planned, the trust’s Water for Wildlife officer Darren Tansley said: “Working with nature to manage the landscape is an important part of adapting to climate change. We are observing ever greater extremes in weather, with meteorological records being broken every year, so responding to these extreme events by pouring more concrete is simply not a viable long-term solution. Where possible, using a natural sea defence such as saltmarsh is both economically and environmentally sustainable.”
The breach at Abbotts Hall had worked well in extreme conditions - “but behind man-made sea defences the story was entirely different,” said Mr Tansley. “The lessons learned from this site are now being applied up and down the coast and Fingringhoe will now benefit from the same forward thinking. What is good for nature can, in fact, be good for people as well.”
As twice daily the Colne covers and exposes Fingringhoe’s new intertidal mud area, the trust has told of its great satisfaction that the project has proved such a success. Trust head of landscape conservation Dave Fairlamb said: “We are absolutely thrilled with the superb birdlife that our new wetland at Fingringhoe Wick has attracted – it is surpassing expectations.
“We’re just two years in but already it is helping to protect important species - in winter there are hundreds of Brent geese and avocets, with thousands of knot and black-tailed godwits for company. In summer there are breeding terns and waders, plus numerous species stop off to rest and feed on spring and autumn migration.
“We’ve even had seals hauled out on the mud, too. And the site will only get better still for wildlife, as the saltmarsh develops.
“It’s not just great for birds, it’s a great place to watch birds, for all the family, as the birds are so close and the spectacles so spectacular. It’s also a really exciting time for the whole of our Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve and the visitor centre. We have a new site manager starting soon, to work with our fantastic existing team, and we intend to make Fingringhoe even better for wildlife and visitors alike. Please come to visit and see for yourself!”
The winter sights and sounds that make the newly created zone so special can be enjoyed in comfort too - even on the harshest of days. The Margaret Hide offers panoramic, virtually-360-degree views of the intertidal zone as it sits inside it, at the end of a long boardwalk. There is even an armchair , so the wintering hordes that seek invertebrate food in the zone’s mud, and safe roosting sites on its islands, can be watched with ease and in relative luxury.
In spring many will depart for far-flung lands thousands of miles to the north, and the reserve’s scrub will ring to the unrivalled song of its famous nightingales that will have returned from Africa. The waders and the wildfowl will begin to return again in the autumn for another winter sojourn. It is a reasonable assumption that anyone captivated by the spectacle these winter waifs offer, and the sounds of the rushing Colne, will also return for another magical experience.
More information about Fingringhoe Wick, and all the other Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserves, can be obtained at www.essexwt.org.uk