RSPB Scotland launches urgent appeal for critical Solway Firth site

One population of Barnacle Geese breeds on Svalbard, Norway, but flies to the east coast of Scotland to spend the winter. Photo: Tom Phillips (commons.wikimedia.org).
One population of Barnacle Geese breeds on Svalbard, Norway, but flies to the east coast of Scotland to spend the winter. Photo: Tom Phillips (commons.wikimedia.org).
RSPB Scotland has today launched an urgent appeal to help secure one of the most important places for migrating Barnacle Geese in the country.

More than 40,000 Barnacle Geese from Svalbard migrate to the Solway Firth every year, with a quarter of these settling at Mersehead RSPB in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. This year, the reserve will once again be filled with the sights and sounds of these geese as they arrive from the Arctic Circle.

Now RSPB Scotland has the opportunity to expand this reserve by 112 ha and provide an even bigger home for these charismatic birds over the winter months. The conservation organisation needs to raise £285,000 by 31 October in order to secure land neighbouring the reserve, including an area which will allow two separate parts of the reserve to be linked together.

It’s not just the migrating geese that will benefit from this land becoming part of RSPB Scotland Mersehead. The reserve is home to the only Scottish population of the country’s rarest amphibian, Natterjack Toad, and every spring its croaking can be listened out for as individuals emerge from hibernation. In summer, the reserve comes alive with Yellowhammers, Linnets and Northern Lapwings, while Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal and Eurasian Wigeon flock there in autumn and waders such as Oystercatcher, European Golden Plover and the increasingly rare Eurasian Curlew join the geese during winter.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “Mersehead is an outstanding place for wildlife and now we have the opportunity to make it even bigger and better for some of Scotland’s rarest species. Throughout the year, visitors to the reserve can experience the wonders of nature from the calls of Skylarks in spring, and the tumbling display of breeding [Northern] Lapwings, to the iconic sight of the Svalbald Barnacle Geese arriving in huge numbers at this time of year.

“Since becoming an RSPB Scotland reserve in 1994, Mersehead has been transformed from intensive agricultural land to wetlands, reedbeds and salt marshes teeming with life, while also introducing wildlife-friendly farming to ensure that the birds, mammals, amphibians and insects found there can thrive in harmony with these sympathetic farming systems. We’re immensely proud of what we have achieved so far and any donations made to this appeal will help allow us to continue this transformational journey that began a generation ago. Please do help us realise our vision of giving nature a far bigger, better home at Mersehead.”

As well as providing more interconnected habitats for wildlife, the incorporation of the land into the reserve will also offer opportunities for more access trails across the site allowing visitors to further immerse themselves in the spectacular scenery and provide more opportunities to experience the special wildlife of the Solway Firth. Joining up the land in the reserve will also see benefits for the management of the site from revitalising burns and ditches to creating greater stretches of salt marsh. It will mean that this work is more cost effective, ensuring that the conservation organisation’s charitable funds can work harder and deliver even more for nature, and any additional funds raised through the appeal will go towards the investment required to manage this new part of the reserve, enhancing the wildlife habitats and make RSPB Scotland’s plans for visitors a reality.

More information about the appeal can be found here: www.rspb.org.uk/merseheadappeal.
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