Steart Marshes, 22nd January, 2023
Our first outing of 2023 saw us venturing out of Devon and into the adjoining county of Somerset. We ventured into the lowland abutting the Bristol Channel, this area is known as Steart Marshes.
Skirting the snow covered heights of Exmoor reminded us that we were still in the midst of Winter. The most common bird encountered on our journey was the magpie, some as a single bird and some as pairs lingering near the traffic hoping for a roadkill to feed upon.
Steart Marshes, situated on the north Somerset coast between the River Parrett and Bridgwater Bay, is managed by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. Completed in 2014 by WWT and the Environment Agency this wetland reserve provides a buffer for nearby housing from rising sea levels. In turn it provides a habitat for wildlife such as otters, owls, waders, wildfowl, water voles and other small mammals. Water levels are managed to ensure the mud is full of invertebrates for the birds to feed on.
These salt marshes lock away thousands of tons of carbon every year providing a long term and sustainable solution in the fight against climate change. Numerous water channels and creeks act as an important nursery for fish.
Donning our warm Winter clothes we set off along the well prepared tracks towards one of the numerous hides dotted around the reserve, Either side of us were small ponds covered in a thin layer of ice. A kestrel was spotted sitting atop a hedge and a flock of wigeon were seen in the distance as a great tit chirped nearby. Alongside the path were newly planted hedges around four to five feet high which will be layered to thicken them out to provide shelter for small birds and mammals. Evidence of this was seen further the path.
Nearer the hide a flock of lapwing graced the skies with their seemingly energy sapping flight. A marsh harrier was seen above the distant skyline and a stoat zipped across the path.
Sitting in the relative warmth of a newly constructed hide, fingers and toes were given the opportunity to thaw out. Looking out over some teasel growing on top of the protective bank we were rewarded with wigeon, pintail, shoveler and avocet. On very high tides the river will flow over the top of these banks creating a salt marsh environment. This will in turn, encourage plants such as glasswort and sea aster. Various ground levels have been created which it is hoped will create a diverse array of species.
Moving on to another hide we decided to eat our packed lunches. Whilst doing so we had the sighting of the day of a hen harrier. It was then decided to drive up to the top most car park and then walk up to the tall hide at the very tip of the peninsula. On the way a merlin was seen sitting on top of a telegraph pole and obligingly stayed long enough for photographs to be taken. Whilst walking up the pebbly channel side path the misty outline of the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant could be seen in the distance. Cattle and sheep graze these salt water lagoons so as to enhance the flavour of their meat.
We arrived at the northernmost hide under slate skies with the murky heights of the Brecon Beacons looming across the Channel. Whilst in the hide, the weather changed, lighting up the white washed houses of Burnham-on-sea across the bay. Pleased with our day’s sightings we made our way back to the cars in the face of blazing sun.
Annual indoor meeting, 22nd February 2023
Our Annual Indoor Meeting was held on 22nd February in the Castle Centre, Barnstaple, North Devon at 7.30pm. We were delighted to welcome our guest speaker Rick Minter, expert on Big Cats and author of “Big Cats – Facing Britain’s Wild Predators”. Rick gave a fascinating insight into how these predators are surviving in the UK. He talked about sightings, people’s reactions and attitudes towards the cats and projected colourful photographs throughout his talk, helping us to recognise the tracks and signs that big cats in the wild may leave as an indicator of their presence. Rick’s research continues and he is always pleased to hear from anyone who has witnessed sightings of big cats. You can listen to other people’s experiences from his many podcasts which can be found on his website at bigcatconversations.com. You can also contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was a fascinating evening and very well attended – so well that the tea, coffee and biscuits almost ran out! The raffle went down well and we still have plenty of nest boxes for sale at only £12.00 a box. Speak to our branch chairman Brian Sims on 01271 343607 if you would like one.