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Nature reserve attracts a rare visitor

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 21, 2012

  • A white-rumped sandpiper searches the mud at Steart for a meal pictureS: Tim Taylor/ wildimaging.co.uk

  • The sandpiper in flight

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One of Europe's largest fast-changing natural landscapes is already playing host to some exotic visitors – a rare white-rumped sandpiper has arrived at the Steart peninsula on the Somerset coast where work is being carried out to create a massive nature reserve.

The migrating bird should be on its way from Canada to South America, but weather conditions have carried it across the Atlantic. And where better to settle than the huge new wetland which is taking shape at the mouth of the River Parrett?

Tim McGrath is from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, which has been working closely with the Environment Agency in creating the nature reserve on behalf of the Bristol Port Company.

He said: "We're in the middle of construction so there are diggers rumbling around the site. There's one small field that hasn't drained but it has been simply teeming with birds over the last weeks, despite being surrounded by all this hubbub."

He said the rare sandpiper's arrival was completely unexpected. "We're thrilled though," he added. "With birds like this turning up now, just imagine how it will be when the diggers are gone and we have 500 hectares of wetland, rather than just one field?"

The work at Steart is designed to mitigate future developments at Avonmouth further up the coast.

Local photographer and birdwatcher Tim Taylor, who took the photos of the sandpiper, said: "It's exciting to see all the work under way. Somerset is already such a great place for birding, boosting it further will be a dream."

The construction team has been taking advantage of the dry weather over the past couple of weeks to convert former low-lying, easily flooded, agricultural land into channels and embankments. The landscaping needs to be in place before the current sea wall is breached next year, letting in the tide and creating coastal wetland.

The Canadian migrant isn't the only rare visitor wading bird to have turned up in recent weeks – a pectoral sandpiper, a wood sandpiper, a glossy ibis and a spoonbill have all been spotted here.

Experts are predicting the newly created marshes will flood 100 times a year and that an entire creek system will develop creating a fully-vegetated Atlantic salt marsh. In doing so, it will become one of the largest fast-changing natural environments in Europe.

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