How sailing came to the aid of Suffolk wildlife

PUBLISHED: 15:25 26 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:45 20 February 2013

How sailing came to the aid of  Suffolk wildlife

How sailing came to the aid of Suffolk wildlife

Cathy Brown on how sailing enthusiasts are helping preserve the wildlife around the Orwell

Cathy Brown on how sailing enthusiasts are helping preserve the wildlife around the Orwell

Think of the Orwell estuary, and you could be forgiven for fearing that the volume of river traffic might discourage wildlife.

Theres the vast expanse of the Port of Felixstowe at the harbour mouth, yacht marinas at Shotley, Levington and Woolverstone, yacht moorings proliferating all the way up the river, and then more dockland and industrial wasteland once you reach Ipswich.

And yet the estuary remains a wildlife magnet of international importance, especially for wading birds and water fowl in general.

Inevitably, all that commercial and leisure traffic on the river creates pressures, but all river users understand the value of the habitat, and the vast majority do their best to keep harmful impact to an absolute minimum.

Traditionally, there has been a tendency for conservationists to view yachtsmen as enemies to their cause, because the creep of moorings and marina berths threatens wildlife habitat, and theres a degree of pollution associated with antifouling paint and other effluent from boats.

But one of the things that attracts the yachting fraternity to the water is a an interest in and appreciation of the waterside environment.

The vast majority of leisure sailors like nothing more than sitting at anchor in East Anglias peaceful creeks, bird watching or seal spotting, or taking a waterside walk and marvelling at the shoreside flora and fauna.

Land-based nature enthusiasts might view ever expanding docklands and marinas as blots on the landscape.

But are they aware how much effort is put into minimising the damage? The Port of Felixstowe went some way to atone for the last upriver expansion of its quayside by establishing the Trimley Marshes nature reserve for Suffolk Wildlife Trust in 1990, flooding arable farmland to create saltings, to replace the lost Fagbury mudflats.

In the same way, Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington has created the Levington Lagoon nature reserve, also managed by the SWT.

The marina at Levington was developed on an area of mudflats created when the river wall was breached in the devastating 1953 floods, rendering a large area of former riverside grazing unfit for agricultural use.

The marina needs annual dredging, to combat silting. Most of the dredged mud is pumped over the river wall, to replenish material removed by natural erosion. But in the early days, much of the spoil from the large scale excavations was pumped on to what is now the nature reserve.

It hardly sounds a promising beginning. But the SWT declares the site: Simply one of the best places for estuarine birds on the Orwell. The brackish lagoon is a magnet for breeding, wintering and passage birds which can be seen there in exceptional numbers and variety.

SWT looks after the site by controlling water levels via a system of sluices to maintain the idea water level to encourage wading birds. It is a fantastic bird-watching site throughout the year.

Seasonal specialities include greenshank, spotted redshank, dunlin and flocks of pipit. Kingfishers are also regulars.

And there are interesting saltmarsh plants, too, including lilac drifts of sea lavender (which unlike its inland cousin has no scent) and sea purslane.

The good news is that unlike some nature reserves, this one is accessible to everyone. For it is skirted along the river edge by the section of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths long distance footpath between the marina and Levington Creek.

The footpath crosses the roadway leading to the marina, just above the entrance barrier. Follow it westwards (towards Ipswich) through the boatyard and youll emerge from behind the marina buildings into open countryside.

Its a sudden and surprising contrast turn the corner and you leave behind the car-parking, hard-standing and general bustle and clutter of a busy boatyard, and theres all the space and peace you could wish for.

The path turns south to the waters edge, where theres evidence of the dredging history. In fact its worse that that.

As SWTs latest publication, A Living Landscape, points out: Few Trust reserves have had quite such an inauspicious start in life as Levington Lagoon during the 1950s and 1960s this area of flooded saltmarsh was in-filled with slag waste from industries in Ipswich. Local people, including birders, successfully campaigned for the tipping to stop on the grounds that it was destroying an outstandingly attractive natural area and damaging the wildlife.

There is no trace of the waste today. It is lost under an exwpanse of rough grassland and scrub where wildlife flourishes.

A variety of birds including over wintering short-eared owl and breeding linnet use the grassland and scrub habitats while waders and egrets feed in the margins of the lagoon.

The 13-acre reserve was established in 1988. The land belongs to Suffolk Yacht Harbour but is managed by SWT volunteers. It is a beneficial partnership.

Recently native plant species hazel and gorse, hawthorn and blackthorn were planted in clumps to provide additional habitat for native bird species. The planting was funded by SYH and carried out by SWT volunteers.

We are very happy to work with the SWT to benefit the environment, said SYH managing director Jonathan Dyke.

Most boat owners appreciate the results!

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