Saturday, 16 June 2007

North-East wetland rejuvenated by Tees industry

Water that might otherwise not have been utilised is helping to bring life to a new nature reserve currently under construction in the Tees Valley.

With spring 2007 one of the driest on record, at the start of the bird breeding season some of the newly created wetland habitats at the Saltholme site in the Tees Valley were looking more like a desert, rather than a haven for wildlife. Meadows designed to attract breeding birds were unseasonably dry, and a newly created lake was more of a puddle. Wetland-loving birds such as Northern Lapwing and Common Snipe were showing little signs of wanting to nest in the dry conditions.

To get around the problem, the RSPB teamed up with local industry to bring Saltholme’s silver meadows back to life and the site is now teeming with nesting wetland birds. A supply of water has been brought to the reserve thanks to the help of local company SABIC UK (formerly Huntsman) which is ‘donating’ the water, produced as a by-product of their brine production management operations. The water might otherwise have gone unutilised, but is now providing a lifeline for breeding birds.

Already 30 pairs of Northern Lapwings, several pairs of Redshanks and three pairs of Common Snipe are using the rejuvenated wetland, along with Shovelers and Yellow Wagtails. An Avocet has called in at Saltholme this spring. The wet grassland also attracted a flock of Black-tailed Godwits which stopped off on their migration to Iceland, giving hope that the species could breed at Saltholme in the future.

The pipeline lifeline has been installed across 1,000 m of the site, bringing the spare water from SABIC’s operations to Saltholme’s main lake and onwards through a sluice to feed 45 ha of wet grassland. It took 47,520 cubic metres (47,520 tons) of water and several weeks to fill the wet grassland after it had dried out in one of the driest Aprils on record.

The RSPB is working in partnership with the Teesside Environmental Trust to create the Saltholme reserve, which is situated near the mouth of the River Tees between Billingham and Seaton Carew. The site is due to open to visitors in 2008, and with around 100,000 visitors expected every year, it will be one of the largest tourist attractions in the region. An inspirational ‘Wild Bird Discovery Centre’ will be at the heart of the site, providing a family-friendly experience of wildlife, and facilities for recreation, education and local community activities.

Photos: Saltholme and Avocet courtesy of RSPB