Looking after our Isle of Wight countryside for winter wildlife

Birds flock over the estuary at Newtown on a cold grey winter's day

With nature a delicate balance, we look after over 5000 acres of Isle of Wight countryside with the aim of ensuring wildlife has a safe place to live and breed, all year round. This is particularly important in winter when resources are scarce. From deep in the woods, to high on the downs and in the muddy estuary waters, we care for these special places so that nature always has a home.

Newtown

The quiet creeks and tidal mud flats of Newtown are part of a network of estuaries along the Solent and south coast of the UK. Together, these estuaries form important resting places and sources of food for birds. It means that when birds are disturbed at one of these coastal sites, they have a place to retreat to at otherwise undisturbed, and not over-developed Newtown, which can provide a refuge for up to six months in the coldest part of the year.

The thick mud is like a larder for the birds, full of juicy worms and molluscs which are exposed as the tide goes out. This makes this intertidal area the perfect place to find a meal for teal and birds with long beaks that poke into the mud. As the tide retreats they spread out across the estuary to feed but as the high waters return, they flock together closer to the shore, making it a good time to spot them.

A teal basks in the warmth of the winter sun
A brightly-coloured teal standing in the broken ice of the water's edge on a cold winter morning at Newtown
A teal basks in the warmth of the winter sun

Winter visitors

Our visiting birds at Newtown come from far-flung, chilly climes. Brent geese fly from Northern Russia, whilst black-tailed godwits make the long journey from frozen Iceland to the Island. Their sub-arctic homes are covered in snow and ice at this time of year, making maritime Newtown seem warm and inviting in comparison.

Brent geese over-winter on Newtown estuary, two here enjoying some winter sun
Two Brent geese swimming on Newtown estuary.
Brent geese over-winter on Newtown estuary, two here enjoying some winter sun

Our work at Newtown

We work with Solent Bird Aware to monitor pubic assess to the birds. It’s important to ensure that the birds are disturbed as little as possible, as each time they have to fly away, additional energy is used – an important resource in cool winter when every Joule is needed to keep warm.

We’re also working with the Blue Marine Foundation to reintroduce native oysters to the waters at Newtown. This will help to clean the water, making it even better for wildlife. Each winter we take our boats out of the water too, so as not to disturb the birds.

If you’d like to see our winter visitors, we have a series of guided birdwatching walks throughout the season, or you can download our trail which will take you around the tranquil estuary.

Farmland

On the farmland that we care for, such as at Mottistone, Dunsbury and Shalfleet, we leave the cereal fields as rough stubble over winter. This provides food for insects which hungry skylarks and meadow pipets then feed on. In amongst the stubble, seed-bearing plants such as fat hen grow, providing food for linnets, yellowhammers and chaffinches.

Around the edges of fields, uncultivated strips are left during the ploughing season which provide a refuge and food for winter birds, as well as cover for protected animals such as hares and dormice, as well as more common voles.

Skylark
Skylark
Skylark

We work the fields in rotation: some are ploughed in autumn, whilst those left for stubble are ploughed in spring and then planted with barley and oats. This makes it harder to establish the crop but helps the winter birds and gives the soil a rest from being worked.

If you take a walk on a winter’s day at Mottistone, it’s likely that you might spot flocks of yellowhammers and bullfinches darting through the winter skies.

Our rangers work hard in winter on the downs and in the woods too to provide homes for wildlife.

Stripping the bark off of felled chestnut in the snow in Borthwood Copse

Winter conservation on the Isle of Wight 

Although it may seem that the countryside has gone to sleep in the winter, our rangers are still busy carrying out important conservation tasks during the colder months. This vital work helps protect the countryside and ensures that come the spring, wildlife has the best conditions in which to re-emerge.