9 August 2012
Otters, kingfishers and the rare bittern are set to benefit from an innovative project to introduce a tidal sluice gate to a nationally important wetland habitat.
Siddick Ponds in West Cumbria is a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The large reedbeds and extensive open waters, including a brackish lagoon, attract and support at least 35 species of nesting birds including the booming bittern, one of the UK’s rarest birds.
But until recently birds were not returning during the winter, food levels seemed to be dropping and fish were fast disappearing. The once brackish ponds had been become congested and the food that the tidal waters brought in to replenish and feed the wildlife had significantly decreased.
Bill Bacon who is the Chair of the Friends of Siddick Ponds Group said: ““We discovered that a heavy steel flap had been put over an outlet linking the site to the estuary of the River Derwent, which had remained closed for over 12 months.”
The discovery kick started a pioneering project between Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Friends of Siddick Ponds to come up with an solution to regulate the water flow in the Ponds. The outcome was the installation of a self regulating tidal gate (SRT), only the third ever of its kind used in the country.
The sluice has an innovative float operated rotary valve which means the lid remains open, floating above water, most of the time. This makes the tide gate design different from all others whose default position is closed, and also makes it ‘fish friendly’ as they have unobstructed passage through the gate [except at times when there is a risk of local flooding when the float closes the sluice automatically.
Bill said: “With the new device in place, the future of the ponds is secured thanks to Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Friends of Siddick Ponds who are developing this wonderful local wildlife habitat even further. Our volunteers and key and are helping with conservation tasks including wetland planting, scrub coppicing, reed cutting, meadow cutting and footpath/step construction.”
Bart Donato from Natural England said: “It’s great to be involved in this project which is enabling this 22 hectare nationally important wildlife site to be fully restored in its glory for both people and wildlife.
“The combination of works on the SSSI and the sluice along with the strength of the local community will ensure that a site that hosted five bitterns last winter and booming bitterns this spring will continue on the restoration path. The summer will see an influx of migratory birds travelling north from Africa. Warblers and swifts together with sand and house martins make the most of aquatic invertebrates emerging from the ponds’ waters.”
The project is funded by the Water Framework Directive. The Environment Agency receives money from the government to implement this directive, which is European legislation designed to improve and protect all waters – on the surface and underground.
Siddick Ponds (Allerdale Borough Council)