I thoroughly enjoy getting out on rivers and estuaries in a boat, it can get you so much closer to some of the wildlife that you otherwise see only from a great distance. I’ve been on boat trips on many of my visits abroad and yet I’d never thought of going on one in the UK. So yesterday I decided to book a trip on the Blackwater Estuary with Steve Grimwade of Swallow Birding. Departing from West Mersea (what a nice small town) we cruised around the creeks adjacent to the RSPB reserve of Old Hall Marshes and the Tollesbury Wick Essex Wildlife Trust reserve. Into the main River Blackwater channel we headed south-west(ish) passed Bradwell – the nuclear power station still dominating the vista. When I travel by boat (or train) for some reason I ponder a lot – I pondered what the site of the nuclear power station would look like if it was covered in solar panels. Would converting the site from nuclear to solar be more fitting for an area that is SSSI, SPA, SAC and a Marine Conservation Zone? The waters in the main channel were choppy, and one couldn’t help think they may get much choppier. Places like the Blackwater Estuary have a high level of conservation and environmental protection, and whilst not perfect, would our special places be better off without them? It’s clear from just a short trip on the estuary that there are a lot of competing interest groups who have a stake in how the estuary is utilised and managed, and yet the birds seem to be doing rather well. A quick look at the BTO WeBs data shows that the overall total number of waterbirds on the Blackwater Estuary is up, at least in the last 5-year period. This is encouraging, but I wonder if successful regulations like the Nature Directives will be cherished in the future, and if not, how will the birds fare?
Whilst we did see birds in the choppier waters, the best views were certainly in the calmer sections. Six Great Northern Divers, including one approximately 50m from the boat, 7 Slavonian Grebes, about 20 Long-tailed Ducks, 3 Common Scoter, numerous Goldeneye, and uncountable numbers of waders. I’d recommend getting out on a boat in the Blackwater Estuary, you never know what you might see, or ponder.
Thanks to Steve Grimwade for letting me use his wonderful image of a Great Northern Diver. Check out his Swallow Birding website for more information on boat tours in the Blackwater Estuary.