Managed by the Somerleyton Estate, Herringfleet Marshes is a 50-hectare grazing marsh in the heart of the River Waveney valley.
The estate is also home to the Dukes Head and Fritton Arms, pubs known for serving good quality, high-welfare beef. The meat on the menu comes from the Welsh Black cattle who graze nearby.
These cows are in part to thank for the recent increase in lapwing and redshank numbers, birds in decline across the country because of habitat loss. The Welsh Blacks manage the grass sward, keeping it short enough for the birds to build their nests. But the bovine can’t take all the credit.
In 2018, the estate raised water levels and excavated ‘footdrains’ to bring water from the surrounding drainage dykes into the marshes. The wetter environment means the habitat is now rich with suitable invertebrate for the birds to feed their chicks.
And all this hard work has paid off, with a surge in numbers of both species on the site. The RSPB estimates there were 13 breeding pairs of lapwing and 14 of redshank between April and June – that’s a 50 and 250 per cent increase since 2014 respectively. There were also sightings of large flocks of waders and wildfowl over the winter.
Bird numbers aside, increasing the water levels means improved water quality, flood mitigation, and better grazing for those cows. Lord Somerleyton believes this kind of land management is the way to go, collaborating with conservation organisations to create and connect wild areas to the wider landscape, while still running a viable livestock business.He’s even planning a similar project for an adjoining marsh. He said: “A lot of this marshland is arable or excessively drained and grazed. But if much of the area is managed more benignly, bringing in sensitive grazing on a wetter landscape, it could transform the area.”
Thanks to Water, Mills and Marshes, farmers and landowners don’t have to foot the bill to make these changes. Countryside Stewardships agreements can cover the costs, as well as support from conversation organisations. And the RSPB’s dedicated wet grassland conservation advisor, funded by the programme, can provide the necessary guidance.
After our second engagement event in April, where 25 attendees took a tour of Herringfleet Marshes, we expect to see a rise in the number of landowners looking for land management advice to achieve positive wildlife outcomes.
And for those who do take the next steps the pay-offs are definitely worth it, as Reg Land, a local birdwatcher and RSPB survey volunteer, explained. “To see the abundance and variety of bird life returning to these marshes over the past winter and spring has been uplifting,” he said. “So too has been the enthusiasm of all those managing the marshes and their desire to make a success of the work. Take a good idea, stir in some enthusiastic people, then add water – and the birds will return!”
For more information about the project and to find out how to receive support, visit https://watermillsandmarshes.org.uk/grasslandmanagement/.