Celebrating 20 years of Smallways wetlands
IT'S 20 years since Smallways wetlands came into being.
All attempts had been made to grow crops on the land. Even the installation of an Archimedes screw – a method of transferring water from the area into a nearby beck – was tried but in the end growing arable crops was simply not profitable.
Immediately the pump stopped operating, the area started to fill with water, covering an area of many acres.
All that really occurred was the land returning to its natural state. All the surrounding area runs downhill to create a natural wetland.
After a very short period of time, wildfowl started to use the lake as the water was not too deep, making it an ideal place to feed and breed.
A black-headed gull colony of 200-300 pairs was established and many species of duck, grebe, geese and swan were recorded.
I recorded the numbers for some years, but very few wader species spent time there.
I met the landowner and spoke to him about lowering the level of water to expose the mud, leading to a source of food for breeding birds and migrants to use.
The idea I put forward was to dig a channel from the main area and let water run off into a stream that ran alongside.
The plan was to let water run off in late winter to a level that would attract migrants to stop off on their long
journeys to breeding grounds in the north of Europe.
I also hoped some species would breed.
Then, at the back end of the year, the idea was to close the channel and make the area attractive to wildfowl.
The results of the experiment proved spectacular.
During spring, late summer and autumn, waders of every description visited, usually for short periods to rest, feed and have a quick wash and brush up before continuing their long journeys to breeding grounds.
Species resident in the UK started to breed alongside the lake or nearby.
To date, ducks, geese, coots and moorhens are regularly producing good sized broods.
The gull colony has up to 300 pairs breeding on the small island. Curlew, redshank and lapwing are regulars, while ringed and little ringed plover are also suspected to have bred at Smallways.
I now come to the star of the show – the avocet.
For some years, small numbers turned up during spring and moved on.
Then the impossible happened.
I had observed four of them in the far corner of the wetland coming and going well past the time that they usually moved on.
I decided to investigate, keeping myself in good cover.
Suddenly an alarm call went up and at that time I had not managed to locate them.
A minute or two later, about 200 yards away, I saw two sitting birds. I was in complete shock at the discovery.
Never could I have imagined avocets breeding so far inland and at this altitude.
The pairs managed to rear four chicks to maturity. Since that first time, they have become regular visitors with up to 12 young fledging each year.
A good number of other birds also breed on the site or close by, such as reed buntings, sedge warblers, which are regulars, along with most resident common species.
Up to 100 different kinds of bird have been reported within a square mile of the wetland most years and occasionally, really rare species make an appearance, such as the white stork, common crane and marsh harrier along with two American species.
When out birdwatching there, not only are our feathered friends there but rabbits, hares, roe deer weasels and stoats are also regular visitors.
All this is now a paradise for anyone interested in nature – all through controlling the water levels at Smallways.