07/02/2017
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Solway Firth reserve expanded after successful public campaign

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RSPB Scotland has announced that a critical site on the Solway Firth has been secured for nature, thanks to public generosity.

In October 2016, the conservation charity launched an urgent appeal to raise £285,000 in just one month to expand Mersehead RSPB by 112 hectares, and make an even bigger refuge for wintering geese and other wildlife throughout the year. The land neighbouring the reserve included an area which would allow two separate parts of the reserve to be linked up making the Mersehead reserve site complete for the very first time.

The public response to the appeal was outstanding and ensured that this crucial part of the Solway Firth is now part of the RSPB Scotland reserve, with many species set to benefit from the interconnected habitats that will be created.

Over 40,000 Barnacle Geese migrate to the area every year from Svalbard in northern Norway, with a quarter of these wintering at Mersehead. The sight and sound of these geese arriving each autumn is one of the most iconic moments in nature's calendar. Mersehead also is home to the only Scottish population of the country's rarest amphibian, Natterjack Toad, while in the summer the sounds of Yellowhammers, Linnets and Northern Lapwings fill the air. The autumn brings Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal and Eurasian Wigeon to the reserve, as well as waders such as Oystercatchers, European Golden Plovers and Eurasian Curlews join the geese during the colder months of the year.

Barnacle Goose
Mersehead is a vital site for the Solway Firth's 40,000 wintering Barnacle Geese (Photo: Steve Minton)

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Over the next two years RSPB Scotland will be working to restore the special saltmarsh and sand dune habitats on this newest part of the reserve. This will create more nesting opportunities for birds such as Common Redshank and Skylark that breed in the saltmarsh, and more ponds in the sand dunes suitable for the Natterjack Toad population. Work will begin this spring with the removal of scrub and non-native plant species.

Joining up the land in the reserve will also see benefits for the management of the site through revitalising burns and ditches to help to create more wetland areas, and visitors will be able to further immerse themselves in the nature-rich Solway Firth through new access trails.

David Beaumont, RSPB Scotland Reserves Manager in South and West Scotland, said: "A huge thank you to everyone who donated money to this urgent appeal. It really was a race against time when we launched our campaign to secure this site for nature. Thanks to the overwhelming public response, Mersehead has now been made whole, which is wonderful news for the special wildlife of the Solway Firth.

"We're immensely proud of what we have achieved at Mersehead since it became a reserve in 1994 with intensive agricultural land being transformed into wetlands, reedbeds and salt marsh teeming with life, and the use of wildlife friendly farming ensuring that nature here can thrive in harmony with the farming systems. We're incredibly grateful that thanks to public generosity this transformational journey can continue for many years to come, with work already underway to make Mersehead an even bigger and better home for nature."