When I was at Farlington Marsh on Tuesday it was obvious that there was a large scale leak of seawater coming onto the reserve from a tidal flat owned by the Highways agency alongside the A27 to the east of the reserve. Being a brackish marsh some seawater influence is a good thing, lots of rare species are specially adapted to allow them to live in a range of brackish conditions where some more robust competitors cannot survive, so these slightly salty habitats are very important. However being brackish, which is to say a bit salty, is quite a different thing from being flooded with seawater, which is what the leaking tidal flap was causing to happen. So I contacted the Highways Agency to get it sorted out, as even a few days of this scale of flooding would be quite damaging to the reserve. Because the flooding happens at high tide it is not possible to see into the sluice then as it is underwater, so on Friday morning I went back when I knew the tide would be low to see if the problem had been fixed and if not to see what it was.
I arrived I on a fine morning and set off to look at the sluice, as I walked east from the Building I saw a water pipit with 2 meadow pipit beside a puddle in North Marsh.
I continued and as I went by the Hayfield I noticed that there were three grey geese with the brents, a family of European white-fronted geese, decidedly rare visitors these days.
The two adults were very well marked with strong belly bars, their offspring is the middle bird in this shot. White-fronts once visited Hampshire in good numbers and the Avon valley would host hundreds every winter, but now very few come to southern England at all, milder winters and greater food availability mean most stay in Holland for the winter.
All these birds were very nice, but it was not getting the sluice sorted, if it did still need doing. I headed up and off the reserve and climbed down the seawall to look into the outfall and this is what I saw.
The tidal flap valve had an old fence post wedging it open, so that when the tide rises the seawater would just flow inwards. This si an easy problem to fix, you just need to lift the metal flap and pull out the obstruction, obviously nobody from Highway Agency had been down to sort it out, so I decided to do it myself. Although it is an easy job there is a problem, the flap is behind a metal grill, about 2m behind actually so you cannot reach it without specialist tools, so I headed off back to the building to make some.
Ok, so this is not exactly precision tool making in the greatest British tradition, but they do the job, one pole with an angle bracket to lift the flap valve and another to pull out the fence post, a couple of minutes work and the job was done and normal salinity restored.
Heading back to the building I was rewarded with the sight of a marsh harrier over the reedbed, an immature with an outer secondary missing from the left wing, so a distinctive bird. after putting the tools away I got ready to leave and saw a marsh harrier again, but this was not missing a feather and was an adult male, then the two were flying about together. Although marsh harrier are much more frequent now, I still very rarely see adult males.
As I left the reserve I ha done last highlight, a group of 3 avocet on the mud just beside the roundabout, all in all a very rewarding and successful morning. Then it was off to the office to complete the interviewing fro my successor, after such a good morning on the reserve I could not help wondering if I had made a terrible mistake!