Sizergh Saving Nature – LON Award 2019
At the 2019 National Land Outdoors and Nature Conference in Sherwood, the ranger team at Sizergh won the LON award for ‘Saving nature’. Well received recognition for all their hard work, dedication and commitment to the wetland project which began in 2012 and which continues to thrive and provide homes for an abundance of wildlife on the Sizergh estate.
Creating a haven for wildlife
It all started with an area of degraded farmland. Poor sheep pasture which was prone to getting wet every winter. With the potential to be much more - what if the the wetness was something to celebrate rather than control? This was the vision for Park End Moss.
Park End lies in the Lyth Valley in Cumbria. A valley of low-lying fields, susceptible to winter wetting, surrounded by higher ground, and covered in damson trees - all on the edge of Sizergh’s estate.
The water across the valley is controlled by pumps which turn the fields into workable farmland. Park End is supplied with its own freshwater through a natural spring which emerges through a clump of rushes on the lower land.
In 2012, after a few years of planning, consultation and development, the Park End project began in earnest with the help of funding from Natural England and the Morecambe Bay Nature Improvement Area as part of an agricultural stewardship scheme. All aiming to turn this damp land into a haven for wildlife.
This was going to be about more than just keeping the fields wet. It was about creating open water and reed bed, and the chance to link up with similar habitat around the edge of Morecambe Bay – similar to the RSPB’s Leighton Moss reserve.
Community coming together
Diggers arrived and chaos ensued as deep channels were dug and shallow scrapes hollowed out over a 40 hectare area. Three sluices were fitted to help the flow of the water onto the site and to get the right amount of water in the right place at the right time. Within weeks fish had moved into the deeper ponds and lapwings nested alongside diggers as they mechanically crashed around the site.
By 2014, once the newly-tweaked landscape had settled, groups from the local primary school and local villages put on their wellies and came with spades to help the rangers plant 4000 reed plants and a further 6000 reed plants in 2015. The transformation was hard to miss. Controlling the growth of these reeds was going to be the job of a few hand-picked Galloway cows.
Farming with Nature
A key component of the Park End scheme was to show how farming and nature can work hand in hand. Tenant farmers David and Rob Willison provided ample advice along with their Galloway cows to graze the reed bed and top tips on how long to graze the land to get the ideal grass length for birds like lapwing to breed.
With this added support, the Sizergh Ranger team also worked hard with their volunteers to reinstate the orchard with rare species of apple and damson trees and create a wildflower meadow using plug plants of meadow species and bales of green hay which would drop their seeds and spread. A hide was designed and built by the rangers using their own felled timber from the estate which now provides an experience like no other for visitors to see the blossoming wildlife.
Now in 2019 this is the only 'large' expanse of water in the Lyth Valley and a draw for wildfowl such as Wigeon and Teal. Species such as Little Egrets, Green Sandpipers and Little Grebes have also taken a liking to the new habitat. The bird hide has been a roaring success with visitors and the rangers lead regular guided walks to help people experience the wetland first hand. Ranger at Sizergh, Rob Pocklington said, “We are delighted by the success of this project. It has involved a lot of hard work and collaboration which has really paid off. It has not only brought birds back to this part of Cumbria but visitors too who get so much enjoyment from the quiet and solitude on site.”