The ability to walk on water would be useful!
I received an email this morning from Simon Clarke, Senior Reserve Manager for Natural England reserves in the county, including Shapwick Heath. He has had to make the decision, reluctantly, not to drain down Meare Heath scrape this autumn. The relevant part of his email is as follows:
‘Over the past month I’ve been assessing the water level in the scrape and also the amount of reed that seems to have encroached this year in particular. I think a combination of lower than normal water levels, lack of rain when we flooded the scrape in the early summer and the hot conditions have encouraged the reed to really spread. As a result we’ve lost a great deal of the mud we’ve had in previous years. In order to stop the mud being lost entirely in the next couple of years it’s critical we stop the reed spreading now. The most cost effective and only way we can do this, this year, is by cutting the reed low and then keeping the area flooded to stop its regrowth for a season.
I’ve therefore made the decision on behalf of NE to not pump down the scrape this autumn, and likely not pump it down next spring. I know this will be really disappointing for many bird watchers and visitors that come to Shapwick but I hope that the reasons can be understood. Shapwick is a good spot but we are also really lucky now to have some other great sites in the Avalon Marshes and on the coast nearby that waders and migrants will use.
To progress this needed management I’ve arranged for a specialist Truxor to come in in mid-late September to spend at least two days cutting the reed in the scrape back. In order to do this we need to raise the water level, so I’ve closed the valve between Meare heath and the scrape so that any rain fall is held in the unit. Ideally we need more rain really to make the cutting most effective.
During September and at the same time as the Truxor is operating we will also spend time cutting the willow and scrub growth that’s grown on the banks around the scrape, improving the visibility of Meare Heath from the South Drain. This means we can also get this work done before the winter ducks come in and start using the scrape lagoon.
As I say, I know this will be really disappointing for wader interests on Shapwick this autumn and next spring, but in the long term it should hopefully allow us to continue to provide a great wader migration observation site in the future.
Disappointing indeed, but I’ve been worried about the encroachment of reed and other vegetation too. If this is what it takes to get it back to the condition it was in a few years ago, then I agree with Simon that it’s a short-term price worth paying.