©BSNHS 2014

After a cold, wet and occasionally stormy March, the turn of the month has brought more spring-like weather, with a mild southerly wind and hazy sunshine, which is very welcome. Unsurprisingly, with the high rainfall last month, particularly at the end, the water levels are quite high at the moment and all the ditches and ponds on the marsh are brim-full.

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

View from the Marsh - April 2016

Andy Sapsford Reserve Warden

Marsh in Oct

Upturned tree and ditch in Great Valley Homes

Marsh in Nov

Some earlier views from the marsh

Marsh in DecMarsh in JanMarsh in FebMarsh in March

Ground conditions in Little and Great Valet Homes, the most southerly and lowest lying parts of the marsh, are also understandably waterlogged, but not as bad as has been the case in the past and we are able to access these areas to work. A year ago, following heavy winter rain and the disturbance brought about by ditching and tree clearance work, Valet Homes was near on impassable and the decision was taken to abandon this area until things had settled down. A year on, although the conditions are still boggy with about 2 inches of surface water in some parts, Valet Homes is once more accessible and management work can be undertaken again.

Despite the recent cold conditions, spring is gradually coming to the marsh. The first flowers - lesser celandine and marsh marigolds, are beginning to flower. Frogspawn has been found in Valet Homes pond, one of the drains on North Mead and in the pond on Round Moors, where there is masses of spawn.

Frogs and toads were completely lost from the marsh some years ago. We now know that this was the result of predation by mink. Having got mink numbers under control, frogs appear to be making a comeback, although I still haven't seen any toads on the reserve yet. We were hoping that the new profiled drains on North Mead would prove attractive to amphibians, but interestingly the only section of drain that has been used is a small section of the old drain system, which is well vegetated, unlike the new drains that were dug out last August. It appears that the frogs do not like using the large clear drains with little or no water weed in them.

Cleared wet meadow area in Great Valley Homes

The circular pathway around the area has been re-established and areas adjacent to this pathway have been cut and cleared of vegetation. This was the area that was covered with both nodding bur-marigold and tripartite bur-marigold last year, both plants that are now uncommon and which thrive on open disturbed muddy conditions, such as were found last summer. Both species are not tolerant of competition, a probable reason why they are now much less common than formerly.

So, in order to maintain these conditions, we have been clearing as much of the wet meadow areas as possible and have made a special effort to control new willow saplings, another beneficiary of wet, disturbed and open ground. Having made strenuous efforts to reintroduce these species back to the marsh after a 50 year absence, it would be a shame to lose them again now that they appear to have come back of their own accord.

The first migrant birds have arrived, with two chiffchaffs holding territory in Valet Homes and at the northern end of the reserve respectively. A male blackcap was singing this morning from scrub in Little Valet Homes, another early arrival.

Many of the overwintering birds still appear to be here, with flocks of fieldfare seen until recently, considerable numbers of snipe and siskins feeding in the alders. Snipe are now only seen on the marsh as winter visitors. However, up until 2004, they bred regularly. With plenty of suitable habitat, we hope continually that they will be persuaded to stay on in the spring and breed once again. Maybe this will be the year!