©BSNHS 2014

It is only a few weeks to go to Christmas but the weather remains unseasonably mild with only a couple of frosts since October. The downside of the mild weather has been a good deal of wet and blustery days, which have hindered work on the marsh somewhat.

The ditches that were dug out and profiled back in the summer are now full and the water looks very clear.

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

View from the Marsh - December 2015

Andy Sapsford Reserve Warden

Marsh in Oct

The owl box on site

Marsh in Nov

Some earlier views from the marsh

Already, some of the ditches are showing signs of aquatic plants colonising them, with good quantities of water crowfoot and starwort appearing. We will hopefully see the full potential of the new habitat next year with new damselfly and dragonfly species colonising.

More money has apparently become available for further conservation projects of this type and discussions are currently taking place as to the best way to use these potential new funds. Suggestions include excavating further ditches and installing a flexipipe sluice in Great Valet Homes to drain off excess water in times of flood. Given our experience in this area last winter / spring, when this part of the reserve was effectively off limits for some months due to the flooding, this would be a helpful feature to install. However, as I have said previously, the "wilderness" area this created was rich in wildlife all summer and contained good populations of one of our target species, the nodding bur marigold.

The work continues to be tree orientated, with two groups of willow pollards cut, one in Little Valet Homes and one on the riverbank. There are more crack willows to be cut further along the river boundary and two osier beds that require coppicing. Weather permitting, we will get time to do these during this month.

The osiers were originally planted on the marsh to provide habitat. Growing densely and closely together, they provide good cover for small birds such as the Cetti's warbler and wintering woodcock.

Although not originally intended for use, some of the osiers have proven to be of sufficiently good quality to use for garden willow sculptures and two years ago, a large quantity of these were sent to St. Elizabeth's home in Perry Green for just this purpose. We have also had interest from a group which hold willow weaving courses at Easton Lodge and are continually looking for new sources of material.

Due to the mild weather, the normal winter visiting birds have been delayed in their arrival this year. However, a small group of redwing were seen today in the roadside hedgerow, a woodcock was flushed from cover in Little Valet Homes and two snipe were flushed from the cattle pasture to the south of the main gate on Rush Mead.

Another bird that is resident in the area, but only an occasional visitor to the marsh, is the barn owl. This species is recovering well in the Stort valley generally, and has bred nearby several times in recent years. To hopefully encourage barn owls to breed on the marsh, we installed a specially designed nest box in an oak tree in the hedgerow at Round Moors.

The tree looks ideal for barn owls, with good shelter as well as an open view over both the reedbed and the tussocky pasture of Round Moors. The cattle grazing has hopefully created ideal conditions for small mammals to shelter in the numerous tussocks of rush and sedge, which in turn will benefit the owls.

 Apparently, monitoring of these boxes elsewhere in the valley has revealed that even if barn owls do not use them immediately, they can often be used by other hole nesting species such as kestrels or stock doves - both birds that have decreased in population in recent decades and which would be great to have as breeding species.

Putting up the owl box