Wonderful Wetlands

Wonderful Wetlands

Update from Morton Marsh on the Isle of Wight
Hairy Dragonfly at Sandown Meadows

When I began my role last year my main focus was getting to grips with the wetland restoration at Morton Marsh. At first glance it’s simply a reedbed with the odd tree and wet ditch but take a closer look and there’s more diversity than I can identify amidst the hubbub of birdsong, each one shouting to be heard and bickering for the best nest sites and mates. Lapwing in particular have a beautiful sound, so characteristic of wetlands in springtime, and this call is also the root of their alternative name, the peewit. I also heard reed warbler, sedge warbler, Cetti’s warbler and reed bunting.

Wetlands are a vital part of our ecosystem and are often the most diverse areas as so many plants and animals are reliant on water. It’s not just about those who spend their entire lives living in ponds and rivers, but many invertebrates spend larval stages in water and many birds rely on these invertebrates as their food source. At Morton Marsh the Down to the Coast project has undertaken quite a bold step in restoring some of the wetland diversity to the Eastern Yar floodplain by excavating several scrapes to hold year round water and provide shallow muddy edges for emergent vegetation and feeding areas for waders. The project, thanks to lottery funding, has also been able to provide infrastructure to allow grazing to help improve the botanical diversity and for people to be able to enjoy it as a nature reserve. A new viewing platform has been constructed overlooking the main scrape area from which visitors can gain a better view of the site, its abundant wildlife and the surrounding landscape features.

Gadwall preening at the waters edge

I am lucky enough to still be able to get out and visit such wonderful places as part of my job and I spent some time enjoying the view from the platform last week. I was hoping to spot my first dragonflies of the year, sadly I didn’t see any there, but I did see a hairy dragonfly at our neighbouring site, Sandown Meadows, the following day! I saw and heard many birds though, including 4 pairs of lapwing displaying, hoping to “get lucky” and hopefully raise some chicks. Unfortunately, they were too far away to video well, but I have included a clip of one feeding in the muddy edge of the scrape. They’ve attempted breeding nearby but success with wader breeding is often limited by the number of adult birds, as they are better at seeing off predators as a group. Hopefully, with this new wetland and improvements to the habitat elsewhere we can establish a larger colony and have some successful breeding!

Other water birds included a mallard pair with 2 quite large, though still cute and fluffy, ducklings and I watched them with their bums in the air feeding in the water. Another pair of ducks, this time gadwall, were also floating around and preening themselves in the sunshine as coot and swan both glided by silently on the water.


I am so pleased with how the scrape has turned out, though it’s not totally finished yet – we’re planning to install some sand martin nesting habitat in the mini-mountain that was created from the spoil from excavations… stay tuned! Though there aren’t huge numbers of birds or masses of biodiversity just yet, to see all the creatures using this habitat so soon after its creation is really inspiring and I would love to see more projects just like this; the bigger the better to help our wildlife recover by putting right the damage we’ve done to the natural environment.