Protecting our wonderful water birds

With the decline in Britain’s wetlands and changing farming methods threatening water bird habitats, rangers on the Sherborne Park Estate decided to reinstate their historic water meadows to ensure our much-loved amphibious creatures have a safe place to call home.

Water birds manage to capture the imaginations of us all, from the greatest artists to the most renowned writers. Days out feeding the ducks are cherished childhood memories held dearly in the hearts of many, to the point where we take our own children or grandchildren to retrace our steps and rekindle our inner child. These playful water birds provide hours of entertainment. Ducks have their quirky characters and cheerfully chatter as they feed, whilst swans give an air of ancient majesty as they gracefully glide across the water. But sadly, their homes are under threat.

Bringing back water meadows

For 17th century farmers, water meadows were a vital part of the farming landscape. They’d base their whole calendar on the annual rise of the river, which would run into the meadows and flood the surrounding area with nutrient rich silt. However, following the changing mindset after World War II, the development of artificial fertilisers and new imported food supplies, water meadows and wetlands became redundant. With this came the loss of the safe haven that provided a home for water-loving plants, mammals, insects and birds.

As a conservation charity, the National Trust has set an ambitious plan to help reverse the decline in wildlife. This includes bringing back water meadows to restore Britain’s diverse mix of sustainable environments in which animals, birds and insects can thrive. Sherborne Estate have reinstated their historic water meadows along the River Windrush. As a result, the Estate is now home to a whole host of water birds, such as Herons, Egrets, Moorhens, Tufted Ducks, Kingfishers and even a Stork.

There’s lots to see, so binoculars are a must.

Waterfowl

Ducks and geese are a lively bunch and there’s a variety of breeds that live, nest and breed in the water meadows. Swans are also part of the waterfowl family, but have sadly fallen into the RSPB’s amber list of endangered birds. Populations numbers have however increased due to their protection and the renewed conservation efforts of their beautiful habitats.

Herons

Herons are unmistakable. They’re eye-catching and look almost prehistoric when they fly. These magical birds are superb fishermen and can be seen at any time during the year.

Egrets

They’re similar to a Heron, but smaller. Once very rare visitors from the Mediterranean, Egrets can now be found readily in southern England, possibly due to warmer climes thought to be as a result of climate change. Sherborne is home to both the Little Egret and the Great White Egret.