I’ve grown up and lived close to Marton Mere in Blackpool all of my life, and as a resident of an urban environment, I have always loved its apparent wildness and tranquillity, particularly when you consider that it sits just a few minutes walk from the dual carriageway and Motorway on which 90% of Blackpool’s numerous visitors enter the town.

What felt like most of my childhood was spent exploring every inch of the site and whilst the frequency of my visits reduced over the next thirty years, I kept coming back.

Those occasional returns became more frequent during the Covid lockdowns and after those lockdowns were relaxed and we all made a return to work, I decided that I would try and get a better work-life balance; I’d heard about the Mere volunteers and had previously contacted Blackpool Council for more information; sadly I got no reply. However, a somewhat fortuitous/serendipitous meting with a couple of sea watchers at Starr Gate, Blackpool, put me in the company of the Mere’s ‘Lead’ Volunteer and I subsequently joined the Mere volunteers in late 2021.

The volunteers meet just once a week, on a Tuesday, and almost single-handedly deliver the Habitat Management Plan for what is Blackpool’s only Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). At the time of writing, I still work full-time and try and attend for half-days and the occasional full day when the workload allows and today was one of those days.

The mere covers a large area and as you can imagine, the Covid years meant the site was unmanaged for a significant period, and because most of the larger sections of habitat management work can only take place outside of the breeding season, a lot of areas were last worked on in the period September 2019 through to February 2020; they then didn’t get any substantial work on them until September 2022 – that’s a long time and plants, trees and in particular Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), can cover an awful lot of ground when left unchecked.
However, undeterred, the volunteers, whilst few in number, don’t lack in the effort or stamina stakes and and if there’s one thing the group likes, it’s a challenge.

So, with that in mind, the volunteers met at the Visitor Centre at the appointed hour and todays challenge was to clear the area in front of one of bird hides on the reserve – this particular hide ‘belongs’ to Fylde Bird Club and their members have access to it – however, whenever we undertake guided walks around the Mere, we always use this hide therefore the habitat management and therefore everyone benefits.
I have included some before and after images of what we did today in the gallery, and I can safely say that I’ll not do a harder days work this year.

The front of the hide is usually a closely mown area where birds may land and in years gone by, has been the site of a grit tray to try and lure one or more Bearded Tits, Panarus biarmicus (Not actually a Tit but that’s for another day) from the reed-bed and into view (it’s not worked for many years but we live in hope!). However, the whole frontage area was covered in approximately 3ft / 1m tall plants of varying types but mainly grasses and Stinging Nettles, Urtica dioica and in some areas these were tall enough to obstruct the view from the hide. We set about this area with our two electric strimmers and the rest of the volunteers raked off the cut vegetation and it was moved to an area close to the hide.

This strimming and raking however were Mere details when we considered the main job for the day which was to open out and clear a channel through the reed-bed into the Mere that provided an open water area for wildfowl and across which passerines would fly and be observed from the hide. The water in which the reed-bed stands is between 18 inches and 36 Inches (45cm to 90cm ) deep and full chest waders had to be worn – I have size 11 feet and the largest foot size we had was a size 9! The rest of the wader ‘fit where it touched’ as they say 🙂 Fully ‘wadered’ up, three of the volunteers proceeded to use rakes and their hands to pull the Bulrush/Reedmace, Typha latifolia and Common Reed, Phragmites australis – after almost four years of no management, you will see from the photos that the channel had ‘closed’ and it took some re-opening.

In all, we estimate that we removed around 3 Tonnes of reed and about 1 tonne of that will have been a mixture of various aquatic plants or ‘blanket weed’ as we would commonly call it – acts pretty much like a sponge! All of that removed material was moved to the same area as the vegetation that was strimmed – left here it will slowly decompose and provide another great habitat for plants an insects.

All in all we had a great day and everyone worked their socks off – our reward was that during the day we treated to the sounds and sights of a large influx of Pink-footed Geese, Anser brachyrynchus that will have travelled from their breeding grounds in more northern latitudes at Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland and will be with us in our estuaries and fields until they depart next Spring.

The first bird to actually fly across the newly created open water channel was a Cetti’s Warbler, Cettia cetti, a bird more usually heard than seen, but not anymore! And just for the final seal of approval, right at the end of the day, just as we were packing up, there was a bit of a commotion and a splash and halfway down the channel, a Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, flew across from left to right; if I described the Cetti’s Warbler as often heard rather than seen, the Water Rail is even more elusive.

We also had a nice fungus on some deadwood just outside the hide and that is pictured in the gallery – it has been identified using the Obsidentify app as Yellowing Curtain Crust Stereum subtomentsum – And rather beautiful it is too.

We also had many Dragonflies present and inspecting the new margins, but I have to admit to not being knowledgeable enough to narrow them down to species level (yet) – there’s always tomorrow…

Details, Mere Details – 12/09/23

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