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18 June 2014
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Estuaries | The Wash

Nature haven

The Wash

The Wash is a vast estuary that stretches for over 100 square miles on the north west margin of East Anglia, running from Skegness to Hunstanton.

One of the largest estuaries in Britain, and offers a rich range of wildlife for nature lovers.

The Wash - rich in wildlife

This outstanding coastal wetland is made up of huge intertidal banks of sand and mud, salt marshes, deep channels and shallow waters.

Its mudflats and sandbanks are jam packed with wildlife, feeding on marine life.

When the tide is low, huge sandbank islands are revealed, which support a great variety of wildlife including birds and seals.

The WashSeal Island

One of the best places to appreciate the seals is Seal Island, the biggest single colony of Common Seals in Europe.

The Wash is full of fish like cod, herring, mackerel and squid which the seals feast on.

You can see the seals at close quarters as they haul themselves onto the sand banks for four or five hours whilst the sand is exposed.

Despite their name Common Seals are a lot less common in the UK than Grey Seals, and tend to be found on the eastern coast.

Wildlife watchers can visit the colony all year round, but the best time to come is June or July when the Seals have just had their pups.

Habitat heaven

GodwitThe Wash is one of Britain's most important winter feeding areas for waders and wildfowl.

Large numbers of migrant birds such as Grey Plovers, Dunlins, Oystercatchers and Godwits arrive in the autumn to feed on the rich supplies of foods found in the sands and mudflats.

The best time to see large flocks of waders is on a rising tide between September and early May.

The Wash National Nature Reserve is accessible by the Peter Scott Walk.

Many sites away from the footpath on the sea wall are extremely dangerous and should only be explored with an experienced local guide.

OystercatcherGibraltar Point

The Wash has a number of other habitats of conservation significance, including saline lagoons, shingle structures and dune complexes.

Another area of The Wash which boasts a wealth of wildlife is Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve with a variety of scenery ranging from sand-dunes and salt marshes to sandy shores.

This unspoilt coastline on the Lincolnshire coast has important communities of plants, animals and wintering birds.

Oyster catchers and waders have made their home on the mudflats.

The Wash Study Centre, run by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, runs events and activities in the Gibraltar Point area throughout the year.

SnettishamWildlife spectacle

Snettisham Nature Reserve is a great place to witness one of the UK's great wildlife spectacles.

During a high tide, wading birds are pushed off their feeding grounds on the vast mudflats of The Wash to roost on the shingle banks and islands in the gravel pits in the reserve just in front of the RSPB hides.

A great time to visit is in the middle of winter at dawn or dusk when you can see of thousands of pink-footed geese in flight, flocking between their safe roost site on The Wash and farmland inland where they feed on the aftermath of the sugar beet harvest.

In the summer, large numbers of common terns and black-headed gulls nest on the reserve and there is a spectacular display of shingle flowers.

The RSPB produces 'Birdwatcher' tide tables which include details of the best tides for watching roosting wading birds and the best phases of the moon for seeing winter wild geese flights. Priced 50p, it can be obtained from the RSPB.

Safety Note - Keep to paths and do not stray into areas where they may be quicksand and dangerous tidal conditions. Visitors are advised to stay on the seawall.

 

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