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Wetter and better

New wetland could see continental birds arriving in Kent

Restoration of a large area of Kent countryside to wildlife-rich wetland could see the garden of England become a landing pad for bird species moving north from Europe as the climate warms.

The RSPB believes species like the once scarce little egret – already making a home along the south coast – and the little bittern, could soon be mixing with more familiar birds like lapwing, reed bunting and water rail in a rejuvenated Lydden Valley.

Now the Society has launched an appeal in an effort to raise the £1.4 million it needs to buy and manage 600 acres of the valley. Just 50-years-ago, the Lydden Valley south of Sandwich was teeming with life, but land drainage has seen it dry out and its wildlife is now much reduced.

The RSPB would return much of it to grazing marsh and reedbed, raising water levels by disabling the drains that bleed moisture out of the fields. They will also restore the land’s ancient network of ‘grips’ – shallow meandering watercourses that provide vital feeding areas for wader chicks.

Doing so would create a home for native birds and other wildlife like water voles and brown hares, while its position near the Channel would offer a convenient refuge for species being pushed north by climate change. Alan Parker, RSPB Kent Reserves Manager, said: “I’ve spent most of my working life with the RSPB in Kent and this is the most exciting opportunity I have ever seen. Several linked pieces of farmland in the Lydden Valley have become available to buy at the same time but we have to act fast, I can’t imagine an opportunity like this coming up again in my lifetime. I’ve been talking to some of the people who grew up in the villages and farms in this area, and the wildlife they describe here when they were young sounds like another world. Species that have declined could be seen regularly.”

The RSPB wants to buy 235 hectares (581 acres) of the Lydden Valley. The full cost of purchase and management over the first four years of this project will be £2,611,525. To date we have raised £1,151,000 through grants from GrantScape (via the Landfill Communities Fund) and the Environment Agency, plus other donations.The RSPB has conducted similar projects across the UK including Pulborough Brooks, in Sussex, a once-drained piece of land that now attracts tens of thousands of wild wetland birds to the South East.

Mr Parker added: “Water is the key to life, and when we buy this land, water will be the key to restoring it. What makes it such a marvellous opportunity is that the water’s still here, still being channelled away – it’s one of the few places in the South East where we can easily reverse the drainage process. This is people’s chance to make a real difference.”

To make a donation or for further information please call 01273 775333 or visit http://www.rspb.org.ukNB The RSPB is part of the Wetland Vision, an alliance of conservationists and government agencies, calling for large areas of wetland to be created, protected and restored across England in the next 50 years to help the country meet the challenges of the future. Together, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, the Environment Agency and English Heritage, have produced a series of maps showing the loss and fragmentation of the country’s wetlands and where opportunities exist to create new ones. For more information visit: http://www.wetlandvision.org.uk

4th July 2014