Ripon City Wetlands: Celebrating World Wetlands Day

©Jamie Hall

Delicate ragged robin, booming bitterns, and swooping sand martins. Celebrating this year’s World Wetlands Day on 2nd February, we highlight the important decade-long partnership between The Wildlife Trusts and Aggregate Industries, with a closer look at the stunning Ripon City Wetlands.

Throughout The Wildlife Trusts relationship with Aggregate Industries, over 4,000 hectares have been created into rich new wildlife wetland habitats, including open water, reedbeds, scrapes and grassland.

Since it opened just a year ago, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Ripon City Wetlands is one such reserve growing into a spectacular wetland. Quarried for sand and gravel since 1964, a restoration plan was drawn up for the site by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Aggregate Industries and Middlemarch. When quarrying ceased, engineers at the quarry worked with advisors from the Trust and used their machinery and knowledge of the site to sculpt and shape it into an attractive venue for visitors and wildlife.

A local nature recovery network

Ripon City Wetlands sits in the Lower Ure Living Landscape, joining up with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s existing Staveley nature reserve on a tributary of the Ure three miles away. Along the river corridor are privately owned nature reserves and a network of places for wildlife to stop, rest and feed.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s area manager for North Yorkshire Jono Leadley says “Our more mobile species like birds and otters, use these reserves to move around. Linking nature reserves in this way – forming Living Landscapes – is essential for wildlife to flourish as many species rely on the ability to roam the landscape to look for food and suitable breeding sites.”

Experiencing a wildlife haven

The reedbeds have been designed to attract breeding bitterns, reed warblers, reed bunting, Cetti’s warbler and marsh harrier, all of which have been seen at the reserve in the first few months.  A large starling roost has made its home here, attracting birds of prey including the stunning merlin and peregrine falcons. Little egret, grey heron, kingfisher, and curlew are seen daily, making a visit to this wetland unforgettable.

Lying around the edge of the Canal Reedbed, the fen meadow has been created using green hay from nearby Staveley nature reserve and seed collected by hand from the reserve as well as from the Trust’s oldest reserve at Askham Bog. This will create a seasonally flooded strip of damp meadow, and encourage plants like ragged robin, hemp agrimony and purple loosestrife to thrive.

The wetland throughout the seasons

Late winter is a great time to see ducks on the larger areas of open water, including tufted ducks, teal, gadwall and shoveler. Hares bound through the reserve and foxes and roe deer can be spotted. Moving into March, the first summer migrants appear - oystercatchers, sand martins and chiffchaffs. The luckiest visitors may even spot the occasional otter!

Away from the water’s edge

Around the Canal Reedbed lagoon, a large area of wild bird crop has been planted - seed-rich plants which are left to seed and feed birds like greenfinches, linnets and reed buntings throughout winter.

Rarer species of plant have begun to appear, including the Yorkshire (thistle) broomrape - a really rare plant found only in a handful of places in the UK!

Areas of bare ground have also been left, as they are important for breeding wading birds including little ringed and ringed plover. Elsewhere, the grassland will be managed as hay meadow, a spectacular sight in late spring and a vital food source to a wide range of insects. Last summer, a population of clouded yellow butterflies appeared, much to the delight of visitors.

What next for the reserve?

Thanks to funding from the Local Partnership Fund, the Trust added more visitor information and a second bird viewing screen. Floating rafts which mimic the bare gravel islands upon which terns nest will be added along with a sand martin wall. These take the form of an artificial bank made from wood, with sand-filled holes to encourage sand martins to nest there. The Trust also plans to install water control devices to manipulate the water levels at specific times of year to create and maintain the best mix of wetland habitat.

Excitingly, a covered outdoor educational area for visiting school groups and a pond dipping platform will be added in spring to mark the one year anniversary.

Jono said “The partnership with Aggregate Industries worked really well and has delivered a superb wetland reserve - we were all thrilled to win the Mineral Products Association restoration award at the end of 2019!  Work is ongoing - this is still a new site - but wildlife has had the very best start, a new home and a lovely place for people to visit and enjoy.”

Ripon City Wetlands, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

Ripon City Wetlands, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

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