Big clean up at RSPB nature reserves after storm damage

Demolished Dunes at Mersehead, captured by Mike Harrison of Creative Nature Media.
Demolished Dunes at Mersehead, captured by Mike Harrison of Creative Nature Media.

A big clean up is underway at the RSPB’s nature reserves in Dumfries and Galloway, after recent storms wreaked havoc all along the south-west coast of Scotland.

The impact of the bad weather and storm surges was felt greatest at Mersehead reserve which suffered salt-water flooding that stretched over a kilometre inland and dramatically altered the dune landscape of its beach.

But although clearing up the damage will cost thousands of pounds, the impact of the flooding could have been much worse without the natural defences offered by the reserve’s saltmarsh and other tidal habitats. The very fact that this coastal strip is managed as a nature reserve means that there has been no damage to property, or fields under intensive management.

RSPB Scotland reserve manager at Mersehead, Colin Bartholomew, said: “We’ve got a lot of clean up work to do at the reserve now, including collecting a vast amount of debris. The salt water will naturally be flushed from some of the wetland areas, but one of the most interesting prospects will be to see how the layout of the coastal strip has changed. New tidal creeks and pools will have been formed and whilst areas of dune have been lost, sand and sediments will have been shifted to form the very early beginnings of new dunes.

“Only by managing this area as a nature reserve can these dynamic forces of nature be allowed to act with a relatively free rein. This is a lesson for the future for other coastal strips, as with sea levels rising, there will inevitably be more tidal surges of this and even greater magnitude.”

As the clean-up work gets underway, one of the big unknowns at Mersehead is the fate of their rarest residents: natterjack toads. The reserve is home to one of the most northerly colonies of these amphibians in the UK, and the area in which they hibernate was inundated by floodwater.

As a coastal species, however, they may be able to adapt to the sudden event, and come spring, it is hoped that their distinctive song will still be heard, perhaps in new areas around the reserve.