The Wash and its Wildlife
The Wash is a 150,000 acre square-sided estuary which forms a large indentation on the east coast of England. Characterised by vast saltmarshes and mudflats, it is internationally recognised for its important wildfowl and wading birds. It is designated as a site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve, a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area. There are now two RSPB reserves near Boston, at Freiston Shore and at Frampton Marsh.
Until the 1980s land owners regularly reclaimed more land from the Wash by constructing sea banks out in the salt marsh as the depositing silt made this possible. At Freiston Shore, for example, this was done by the Borstal Boys from North Sea Camp. (North Sea Camp had been established as a Borstal for young offenders in 1935. It became a Category D Open Prison in 1988.) However, rising sea levels and intense winter storms threatened to overwhelm these banks, potentially flooding large areas of farmland as well as nearby villages and the town of Boston itself. In order to avoid this scenario the Boston Wash Banks project was developed by the Environment Agency (EA), RSPB and other partners and the EA upgraded the outer bank.
The reclamation at Freiston was deemed too expensive to maintain so, after strengthening an inner sea bank, the outer one was deliberately breached in a process known as ‘managed realignment’. The area reverted to natural saltmarsh which helped strengthen sea defences and provided a home for wildlife. It became RSPB Frieston Shore in 2002. The saline lagoon which was created became a habitat for wading birds which were displaced daily from their feeding grounds on the mudflats of The Wash by rising high tides.
Thousands of birds flocking onto the lagoon provide a wildlife spectacle with birds such as the Knot, Oystercatcher and Dunlin being seen in big numbers, particularly on large autumnal high tides. The development of Frampton Marsh nature reserve occurred in two phases. The RSPB first acquired the saltmarsh at Frampton Marsh in 1984, as it held one of the UK’s largest breeding populations of Redshanks and also provided wintering grounds for an internationally significant number of Brent geese. Soon after the Millennium, the area of farmland behind the saltmarsh was bought by the RSPB, and turned into freshwater habitats to complement the saltwater marshes and mudflats. The reed-bed, freshwater lagoons and wet grassland grazing marshes were created and a visitor centre was built, including paths and bird-hides. The reserve attracts 55,000 people each year.
Today, Frampton Marsh is renowned throughout the UK as one of the best places to see wading birds and wildfowl in large numbers. It boasts an impressive variety of rare visitors, including the first ever attempt by a Glossy Ibis to nest in the UK. It also provides a home for the rare Sea-aster Mining bee and the rare Slender-hare’s ear plant. Both RSPB Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore nature reserves are open throughout the year.