Following on from my previous post, I did go to Welney Wetland Centre on Saturday to find out what was going on for World Wetlands Day.
The midday swan feeding session was, I was reliably told, certainly not as it turns out normally. Where only a week ago there was dry land, this had now turned into a choppy and rather deep lake, coming right up to the base of the main observatory.
I felt sorry for Sam Lee, the Public Engagement Officer at the Welney Wetland Centre who carried out the swan feeding this time: she was in quite deep water, meanwhile miraculously keeping a wheelbarrow afloat whilst also skillfully feeding the birds. Despite the difficult circumstances she did a great job. See also this news item in the Cambridge News.
Due to the choppy northwestern beating against the shore, fewer birds showed up than would normally have been the case. We were nevertheless treated at several hundred Pochards and tens of Swans. In addition, a couple of Cormorants flew by and a Marsh Harrier was busy hunting in the distance. I am sure that people with the right gear spotted many more species – loads of bird species are being recorded at Welney throughout the year.
The Ouse Washes hold the UK’s largest roost of Whooper and Bewick’s swans. These birds have gone through incredible migrations from their breeding grounds in Iceland (Whooper Swans) and Arctic Siberia (Bewick’s Swans) to arrive at their winter refuge. In a good year, up to 5,000 Whooper swans and 3,000 Bewick’s swans make the Ouse Washes their seasonal home.
The Ouse Washes support numerous wintering and breeding bird species. The area is well-protected through several designation systems: not only are the Ouse Washes a Ramsar site, as explained in the previous post, it is also an SPA (Special Area of Protection), a designation focusing specifically on birds; SPAs form an important element of the European Natura 2000 network. Furthermore, it is designated by the national SSSI designation (Site of Special Scientific Interest). If you would want to know more about these designations, look here for the information on the Ouse Washes SSSI and look here for information on the Ouse Washes SPA.
The fact that the Ouse Washes are so well protected, both nationally and internationally, does not necessarily mean that it all works perfectly fine. In fact, only 19% of the Ouse Washes SSSI is deemed to be in ‘favourable condition’ or ‘unfavourable, but recovering condition’. See for all stats on the condition of the Ouse Washes SSSI here. The Government’s Public Service Agreement (PSA) target is to have 95% of the SSSI area in the UK in favourable or recovering condition. The 19% for the Ouse Washes compares with the current 94% for all East of England SSSIs taken together.
The reasons why most of the Ouse Washes SSSI is deemed unfavourable are multiple and complex. It is something I will be reporting on over the next few months in various future posts.