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Wild Rye: Discover Our Wetland Wildlife

Bittern in Winter

Local Nature Reserve

In 1999 English Nature awarded Rye Harbour Nature Reserve a grant for a project totalling £20,000 that funded some Species and Visitor Management.

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The project targeted some key species with practical management.

Tree Sparrows: Schwegler woodcrete nest boxes have provided sites that are resistant to woodpeckers and are long lasting. The boxes were very successful and the local population of Tree Sparrows is now having greater success. 12 of the 18 new boxes had nests built in them (we considered this to be 9 pairs) and there were several pairs of Blue Tit nesting. Attempts were made to feed Tree Sparrows, with volunteers keeping the feeders topped up. This was not successful, the feeders were dominated by large flocks of Greenfinches and few other species got a look in. The local Tree Sparrows preferred to feed on nearby stubble.

Wheatear: Clay piping has been adapted to provide a longer lasting alternative to wood. Volunteers have been adapting and installing them.

Little Tern: An improved design of temporary fencing has been found and 500m purchased, together with power units and batteries. The Little Terns deserted the LNR in 2000 for the first time ever, but retrned in 2001 to breed successfully!

Common Tern: Two islands used regularly by nesting Common and Sandwich Terns and Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls have suffered losses from Foxes and Badgers in the last few years. A team of volunteers have constructed a fence in the water around each island in the hope of reducing these losses. However, no terns or gulls nested on these islands in 2000, but a pair of Oystercatchers did and raised 2 young. Commercial pontoon floats have been obtained for a raft at Castle Water. In April 2000 9 volunteers constructed the raft at the waters edge, launched it and covered it in shingle. The next day we surrounded the raft with wire mesh to stop any chicks falling off and as we left a pair of Common Terns settled on it. However, Herring Gulls also took a liking to the raft and dominated it. Two smaller rafts have been made for Ternery Pool and were positioned in March 2001.

Sand Martin: Materials for an artificial bank (similar to the idea in Enact vol.6 no.2) have been purchased and volunteers constructed it in February. A clay bank was also adapted with sand filled plastic pipes. No Sand Martins were seen during the breeding season, but Kingfishers did nest in the bank.

Barn Owl and Kestrel: Boxes were made and installed. Barn Owls took to the boxes in the first season. The wing tagging of male Kestrels to study their impact on Little Terns was halted when the terns deserted. The one male tagged near its nest site only 1.5 km from the terns has never been seen to hunt more that 600m from its nest site, i.e. is not a problem to the terns and other birds of the LNR.

Water Vole: Fencing has created more suitable habitat and there are signs of Water Vole using it.

Bumblebees: Experimental underground nest sites (plastic watering cans) are being installed and will be provisioned with old mouse nests to attract queen bees looking for nest sites in early spring. The nest sites were not used by bumble bees, some will need relocating because of the growth of vegetation.

The endangered carabid beetle, Omophron limbatum: Volunteers have used water pumps to erode a sandy margin at Castle Water to extend the area of suitable habitat for this and other rare beetles. This has maintained the areas in a suitable condition with abundant Omophron limbatum.

Reedbeds: Volunteers have been cutting willow trees down in reedbeds to eliminate the shade that weakens the reedbed growth. During this work we had close views of Bittern, Water Rail and Bearded Tits! This and other work has made Rye Harbour Nature Reserve the place to see Bittern in Sussex with 4-5 seen at dusk most on days in the winter from the viewpoint we have created.

Wind Pump: After several years of experimenting with a petrol water pump to raise water levels in an isolated ditch system we obtained a test licence from the Environment Agency for a wind powered water pump. On 10th June 2000 we installed a wind pump of a type that has been used successfully in Somerset (see www.somerset.gov.uk./levels/Windpump.htm ). We measured water levels weekly at 9 different locations to see what impact the pump has. The graph shows the pump can maintain a 20cm. higher water level in the reed fringed ditch.

Marshmallow: Volunteers collected the seed from our wild plants and this has been distributed to have a supply of seedlings for transplanting into protected damp grassland / saltmarsh areas. This tall, downy, grey green plant grows in damp soil that is slightly brackish. Its flowers are pale pink and resemble those of its close relative the Hollyhock. Marsh-mallow (Althea officinalis) is the plant whose roots produced the well-known sweet of the same name - the roots contain much sugar, starch and oils that produce a jelly when infused in water. It also has many claimed medical uses, for bronchitis, intestinal disorders and for healing cuts and burns. Around Rye it grows at the upper levels of the saltmarsh and in the brackish ditches of Walland Marsh and the Nature Reserve see map of distribution. This area is also home to the rare Marsh-mallow Moth (Hydraecia osseola), which is found in only one other place in Britain. We are encouraging the spread of this nationally scarce plant on the Nature Reserve by growing plants from our seed. If you would like to help please send a sae for some seeds and instructions to the Nature Reserve address. Our hope is to have several large groups of plants that will help secure the future of the endangered moth.

Shingle Invertebrates Studies: The shingle habitat is very special, but we know little about the invertebrates living beneath the surface. We have placed subterranean pitfall traps at 100cm. and 50cm. deep in the shingle to study this specialised fauna and discovered a fly new to science! It is a phorid fly, Megaselia yatesi. We now plan an even deeper trap and will trap at other times of year. Temperature data loggers will provide vital information on this micro-habitat. The first results show how in cold weather and in hot weather the temperature just 40 cm. deep the shingle is stable compared with both the shingle surface and air temperatures.

The grant also helped us with our management of people:

Species Interpretation: 50 Panels about individual species were purchased and framed to show visitors some of the wildlife they will see on their visit. They can be seen at Lime Kiln Cottage Information Centre and the Guy Crittall Hide at Ternery Pool. The panels are made by The Osprey Company.

Visitor Counter: An infra-red counter with a data logger has been collecting information on numbers of visitors per hour passing our Information Centre at the main entrance to the LNR. Our estimated number of 100,000 visitors per year is probably an underestimate. We have bought a second unit to have at other locations around the LNR. East Sussex County Council have also installed a vehicle counter at the entrance to the car park which will complement this study.