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17 September 2014
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Wetlands - Martin Mere

Wetland wonderland

Martin Mere is one of Britain's most important wetland habitats and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the largest international wetland conservation charity in the UK.

Evening delight - Martin Mere
Photo - WWT and Richard Taylor-Jones

The reserve itself covers over 350 acres and is visited by thousands of migratory wildfowl throughout the year, as well as being home to over 1,000 tame birds, many of which are on the endangered list.

In fact, Martin Mere has its own Doomsday Book listing over 500 species of plant, 300 fungi, 1,500 invertebrates, nearly 300 types of birds as well as 28 different mammals and 19 types of fish.

It's an ideal wildlife habitat, but to find out why and how it became such a haven we have to travel back in time to the last ice age.

Wetland creation

Bird display c/o WWT and Richard Taylor-JonesAs the glaciers retreated from Northern Britain, the meltwaters carved a huge shallow bowl in the landscape, just north of Liverpool.

When this became filled with water, creating one of the largest lakes in the North West, Martin Mere was born.

Although the ancient lake was later drained by a local lord who wanted to harvest the rich peat reserves underneath, its name lives on in the now-famous nature reserve.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reclaimed the land for wildlife conservation in 1972, flooding huge areas of land across the site every year to maintain this wetland habitat.

Birds and bees

StiltAlthough Martin Mere is home to many different types of wildlife, it's famous for the varied number of birds which can be seen here, with everything from Flamingos to Barn Owls.

Recent visitors to Martin Mere include Black Winged Stilts, which are rare visitors to Britain as they prefer a more Mediterranean climate.

They may have missed their original landing spot but they've got a safe home at Martin Mere - there's 24-hour surveillance to watch out for predators and protect their eggs.

Little Grebes also live on the edge of the reeds and build themselves little platforms from water-borne vegetation to support their nests.

Sightings of Little Grebes are becoming more common in Britain as global warming continues to change our climate - so who knows what other tropical birds will turn up in the future?

In the dark

Martin Mere at dusk c/o WWT and Richard Taylor-JonesBut it's not just birds which attract thousands of visitors to the reserve every year - visitors may also encounter one of the night's most elusive creatures, the bat.

Four times a year the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust organises special walks around the reserve, taking visitors through areas usually out of bounds during the day.

Watching birds from the safety of the hides is all well and good but the Bat and Barn Owl Walk is a great opportunity to get out in the open with these creatures of the night.

Using a bat detector, wardens can pick out where the Pipistrelle and Noctule bats are hiding - both of which love this wetland habitat for its abundance of tasty insects.

They can eat up to 3,000 insects in just one night, so it's just as well that Martin Mere has a rich and varied feast on offer.

Creepy crawlies

Chaser c/o WWT and James LeesThe many ponds here are full of Damselflies and Dragonflies, but they can be pretty tricky to spot.

Summer is great for seeing the Four-spotted Chaser, one of Britain's most common Dragonflies and a regular sight between May and August.

Distinguished by its spotty wings, this territorial insect loves lowland pools and can often be found perched on a lookout post of a twig or reed, looking out for a mate.

A good way to attract them is to insert a stick at 45 degrees into the ground to provide a perch for these colourful creatures.

A-Z of Martin Mere birds

Ruddy Shelduck c/o WWTThere are nearly 300 species of birds found at Martin Mere so why not tick off how many you can see on a notepad or bird spotters' list?

Amongst the many species on view are:

* Barn Owl
* Dunnock
* Firecrest
* Grey Heron
* Kestrel
* Lapwing
* Mallard
* Oystercatcher
* Peregrine
* Robin
* Teal

Make the most of summer bird and bug spotting - read Nature's Calendar's top tips

Photo credits

Chaser image courtesy of Wildlife Trust and James Lees.

Photographs of Martin Mere copyright and courtesy of Martin Mere and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.



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