One of the nation’s youngest nature reserves is attaining its fifth anniversary this month.
Launched in September 2013 a stone’s throw from Pagham Harbour, RSPB Medmerry offers a landscape rich in wildlife, from freshwater ponds to specially-made saline lagoons and carefully managed farmland.
The reserve is the product of the largest realignment of the open coast ever undertaken in the UK and is both of national importance and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The Environment Agency flood protection scheme was created in partnership with the RSPB and forms vital new intertidal wildlife habitats.
Sara Humphrey, RSPB communications officer for Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, said: “RSPB Medmerry has been an incredible success for wildlife.”
Working with the Environment Agency and other partners, the RSPB has seen an increase in rare species using the reserve since the site’s completion.
Sara said: “In 2016 we brought breeding avocets back to the area, our water vole population is thriving and our farmland habitat is home to the only nesting corn buntings on the Manhood Peninsula and record numbers of over-wintering linnets.”
The RSPB has been working alongside partners and landowners to make the best use of the site.
Thus, sheep are used on the banks for plants and wildflowers, while cattle occupy transitional marshes, keeping the grass low for winter wildfowl that prefer fresh growth, such as wigeon, snipe and brent geese, and low grass for breeding birds in the spring, including redshank and lapwing.
Some lagoons and ponds are grazed, too, and the RSPB clears the islands of vegetation during winter in preparation for breeding shorebirds in spring.
With the help of farmers on arable stewardship schemes, it is able to provide margins and winter stubble and also sow wild bird mixes to provide food and cover throughout the year for farmland birds, including turtle doves and yellowhammers.
Meanwhile, rotational ditch management optimises the freshwater habitat for water voles, amphibians and dragonflies and, among other projects, the organisation provides habitats for reptiles, continually monitoring them to track progress and development.
‘Fantastic for visitors, too’
One of West and East Sussex’s last natural wildernesses, RSPB Medmerry is a large-scale undeveloped oasis on our coastline.
As such, this ‘wild and wonderful’ reserve has no toilets, facilities or hides and access is limited to particular paths.
The RSPB therefore recommends visits commence at the nearby RSPB Pagham Harbour visitor centre, which is open daily from 10am to 4pm and has a cafe and toilets.
The centre features the latest information about visiting both reserves, plus details of how to use its amenities and, of course, the best places to see wildlife.
Although the site is vast, the organisation has worked with the Environment Agency to make it as accessible as possible.
Sara Humphrey, RSPB communications officer for Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, said: “RSPB Medmerry is a fantastic place for people, as well as wildlife.”
One of the best ways to explore is via the site’s seven kilometres of permissive cycle routes, which run the length of the reserve and are open at all times.
Sara said a new cycle path, linking RSPB Pagham to RSPB Medmerry, is due to open in early 2019: “It will help even more visitors to get out and explore the stunning landscape and discover the rich tapestry of wildlife that thrives there.”
Medmerry offers miles of footpaths and big open landscapes, as well as views of the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower from four specially-created viewing mounds. Dog walkers are, however, advised to stay on public and permissive rights of way and must keep dogs under close control and on leads around grazing livestock.
Horse-riding is permitted on the bridleways below the flood bank - riders are encouraged to contact the centre for details.
In the school holidays, the RSPB runs special family events. These range from pond dipping, bug hunting and arts and crafts to seashore safaris, mud-sifting and seasonal-themed events for children, accompanied by an adult, but hands-on, curriculum-based visits are also on offer to schools in termtime,
In addition, wildlife photography and painting workshops run year-round at the visitor centre.
Future events include a ‘Discover Medmerry (East)’ walk on Sunday, November 18.