The Filey Dams wetland restoration project

By Richard Baines, FBOG Conservation Officer

My first visits to Filey Dams, way back in the 1980’s, were to see a fine adult Purple Heron and a Rustic Bunting. I remember being struck by how great such a small site can be for birds despite being nestled in between farmland and housing. At that time the site was an open grazing marsh with shallow ephemeral ponds and little in the way of boundary trees or hedges.

The Dams from the east hide, pre-restoration

Fast forward thirty years and the reserve is now a very different place. The ponds have become permanent water bodies and the boundary trees and hedges have become much bigger, sheltering and landscaping the site well but reducing the attractiveness of the habitat for waders and wildfowl. This vegetation succession is a natural process, but in a land of limited resources for birds we sometimes have to restore and/or enhance habitat to keep attracting these special birds.

Work in progress!

Wetland habitat can sometimes be restored on a small scale by tinkering around the edges with spades but if you really want to make a big difference get the big diggers in! At the Dams, our Conservation Team (with consultation and input from FBOG members) identified an area of grassland – largely dominated by feral geese and loafing gulls – as an area which could be improved. All around this area, wading birds such as Black-tailed Godwit and wildfowl such as Wigeon were being squeezed by encroaching ruderal vegetation such as Bramble, reducing available feeding areas.

Thanks to a lot of voluntary work preparing a management plan by the FBOG team with design expertise from John Beaumont of Green Future Building (GFB), we knew the why, what and how – but how could we afford to achieve our wader dreams? In these cases opportunities need to be grabbed quickly, and like magic up popped Green Business Network contact Nigel Oliver with news of a big Yorventure grant. The trouble was we only had two weeks before the deadline! We quickly formed a team and with help and support from many people including Yorkshire Wildlife Trust we submitted the application. Now if you ever wonder whether coughing up membership to small, voluntary environmental groups such as FBOG helps, this is great concrete proof that it does! We also needed to find £5,000 as match-funding in a very short time, and thankfully the FBOG coffers did the deal – and then all we needed to do was keep our fingers crossed.

We got the official nod in September, but as is often the case in these circumstances we were sworn to secrecy by our funders until the official launch was ready. This was the hardest time as we all wanted to run through Filey screaming mud glorious mud! After releasing the news we commissioned Green Future Building’s John Beaumont to manage the work alongside local contractor Chris Mumby. John and Chris have done a great job at similar wetland sites down the road at Flamborough Bird Observatory and BucktoN. It helped enormously involving GFB at the early planning stage, which meant we were able to use their expertise to work in partnership with FBOG on habitat design. Their advice and logistical knowledge was invaluable throughout the project.

As I write this it’s only seven months since we came up with our final plan and submitted the grant, and I think we’ve done really well as a very small group of volunteers (and so do the birds – within one hour after the digger started a flock of Redshanks were feeding on the mud!). There’s no better feeling than volunteering time and effort into creating habitat then watching the birds use the habitat you created.

Richard Baines – FBOG Conservation Officer, November 2017

Conservation Team: Mark Pearson, Ian Robinson, Dan Lombard, Mark Moore