Wet spell devastates “already-threatened” wildlife

THE recent wet weather has had a “catastrophic” impact on some of East Cambridgeshire’s already-threatened wildlife, the RSPB said this week.

Several of the society’s 211 nature reserves have suffered severe flooding, including the internationally-important Ouse Washes which stretch as far as Mepal, Witcham and Coveney.

The reserve, which is home to the largest concentration of nesting wading birds in lowland England, is under two metres of water in places, submerging the nests and breeding attempts of about 600 wading birds.

Some of the birds affected include large numbers of redshank, lapwing as well as the internationally-important black-tailed godwits.

Jon Reeves is the RSPB’s Ouse Washes site manager. He said: “Following centuries of land drainage across the UK, The Ouse Washes is now the most important stronghold for these birds, after they have been largely forced out of other sites. “Literally, we have all our eggs in one basket and we’ve lost them. It’s devastating to watch the nests succumb to the rising waters without being able to do anything to prevent it.”

The Ouse Washes is used by the Environment Agency as part of the flood relief system for the River Great Ouse, which flows from Northamptonshire, through Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Ely through to the sea, near Kings Lynn, in Norfolk.

In summer, the Ouse Washes nature reserve is grazed by cattle to create the ideal conditions for ground-nesting birds. The RSPB manages the site to keep the water levels at an optimum height for wading birds to create damp grassland and wet features without flooding. However, the Environment Agency has to open sluices to allow water onto the washes to prevent flooding elsewhere in the 150 mile catchment of the Great River Ouse.

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Mr Reeves added: “The Environment Agency is working hard to identify replacement land for the birds to nest to take the pressure off the Ouse Washes. Until this replacement land is in place, the birds will continue to face an uncertain future.”