It’s time to put Swale’s wetlands at the top of your to visit list
Many of us have been appreciating our local environment more than ever in recent years, and Swale’s wealth of wetlands have a range of benefits for both your wellbeing and local environment. Many of the wetland areas of Swale are protected by the Kent Wildlife Trust, RSPB and other organisations. Please respect, protect and enjoy them when we are allowed non essential travel and experience our wetlands following the 'Countryside Code'.
We are shining a spotlight on wetlands as a source of freshwater providing extremely important services to the local eco-system. This includes forming a significant part of the food chain, as they are home to a variety of species, many of which ensure a supply of food for the human population. Over 90% of marine fish species depend on the existence of wetlands adjacent to coastal areas at some point in their life cycle.
Wetlands also play a key role in controlling flooding and protecting coastal areas, which is all too important to those on the Isle of Sheppey and surrounding areas. This is why Swale Borough Council has pledged to protect and enhance the local environment in the Climate and Ecological Emergency Action Plan.
Finally, wetlands provide great value to people as open spaces for leisure and tourism activities.
We have highlighted some of the great opportunities at wetlands in Swale below.
Elmley, on the Isle of Sheppey, is an internationally important freshwater grazing marsh wetland renowned for significant populations of over-wintering and breeding birds, as well as hare, water voles, rare invertebrates and flora. Elmley’s vast freshwater habitat, salt marsh and mudflats make the area a gigantic feeding table for waders and wildfowl throughout the year.
On a visit to Elmley you are likely to see water birds wading in the ponds, magnificent birds of prey soaring above, hares bounding across the meadows, as well as a fantastic variety of insects exploring the waterways and wildflowers. If you are lucky you might also spot a water vole hiding among the reeds or a grass snake basking by the pools.
When visiting Elmley you can follow designated footpaths around the wetland to find the viewing hides, with a car park closer to these main attractions for those with reduced mobility. At the main car park by Kingshill Farm you can also find a café with takeaway lunches, teas and coffees. The landscape at Elmley is so impressive that the conservation area also hosts accommodation, weddings, and other events.
Oare Marshes can be found an 11-minute drive outside of Faversham, and is of international importance for migratory, overwintering and breeding wetland birds. The reserve consists of grazing marsh (one of a few left in Kent) with freshwater dykes, open water scrapes, reedbed, saltmarsh and seawall. Why not take advantage of the two viewing hides for observing wildlife?
The Saxon Shore Way runs through the reserve along the seawall, making the marshes a great stop off point if you are on a longer hike. If you are making Oare Marshes your destination for the day, parking is provided, with a disabled-only car park 300m from the hide overlooking the East Flood. Further information about the reserve and the wildlife is available from Kent Wildlife Trust. Why not try the ‘Boatyards and Buntings’ walk when restrictions allow?
We wouldn’t be able to celebrate World Wetland Day without recognising the great work happening at the Seasalter Levels. The site is now part of the Swale Ramsar site, Special Protection Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest, however had been managed inappropriately for decades before control was gained by local authorities, including Swale, and other environmental organisations. Whilst the area managed for wildlife has increased since 2007, a large part remains in poor condition. This funding will enable the partnership to deliver large scale restoration of 228ha of wetland and finish the job.
This will be done by installing new wetland features, including banks, sluices and pools, and by introducing grazing by cattle. When complete this will transform Seasalter into a wetland nature reserve for many rare bird species such as lapwing, redshank and curlew plus other wildlife, such as water voles, the shrill carder bee and rare dragonflies. This will become an asset to the local area and a great destination to visit.
South Swale reserve is home to thousands of wildfowl and waders in winter, and some very special plants in summer. Visit on a calm summers day when it reverberates to the sounds of grasshoppers, beetles, skylark, reed warbler and breeding redshank.
In winter, the mudflats and tidal waters of the Swale estuary teem with shellfish, worms and certain specialised plants. These attract huge numbers of birds to feed, especially as the tide goes out. Wigeon and up to 2,000 Brent geese rely heavily on the eelgrass which grows below the high tide mark. Plan your free trip around this Site of Special Scientific Interest on the Kent Wildlife Trust Website.
If you can’t wait to get out and explore these incredible nature spots, why not try some watching some videos created at Swale wetlands in the meantime? Studies conducted by the BBC and the University of California have confirmed that even short engagement with nature videos lead to significant increases in positive emotions including awe and joy, and decreases in anxiety, stress and tiredness.