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Tuesday 6th June 2017

Avocet Chick Credit Pete Walkden Avocet Chick Credit Pete Walkden

A former sand and gravel quarry, close to the village of North Cave in the East Riding of Yorkshire, has become an important sanctuary for one of Yorkshire’s largest inland colonies of avocets – an iconic, once highly threatened bird which remains amongst the most heavily protected species in the UK.

It’s a delight to have had so many avocet hatchings this year. Spot them at North Cave Wetlands Nature Reserve

Twenty-three avocet chickshave hatched within Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s North Cave Wetlands Nature Reserve over recent weeks and the hope is, having bred successfully, avocets will remain faithful to the site in subsequent years.

Less than two decades ago the site at North Cave was in the midst of being actively quarried and, in parts, remains so today. As the first phase of quarrying came to end, planning permission was sought to convert the mined sections of the site to landfill but successfully contested on appeal.

Open to new ideas about the future of the site, owners Humberside Aggregates forged a partnership with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and local residents which led to the purchase of the original 40 hectare (100 acre) site by the Trust in 2000 and an agreement that, as each subsequent phase of quarrying completed, an intensive programme of restoration would see the land eventually extend to an impressive 140 hectare (346 acres) area of wetland – a nod to the great wetland lost 250 years ago when Wallingfen, part of the Humberhead Levels, was drained.

Fast-forward to 2017 and what once consisted of six very bare, deep, water filled holes and a field have already been transformed into an oasis of wildlife and one of the foremost inland water sites in the region. Now firmly established as a thriving bird reserve, over 200 species have been recorded.

To date, restoration work led by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has delivered a mixture of shallow and deep water lakes and reed beds, providing outstanding habitat for passage, breeding and wintering birds. Gravel islands have been created in three lakes to provide breeding grounds for a number of bird species, and it is one of these that is now home for the avocets, safe from human disturbance.

The avocet , with its unmistakeable black and white markings and long up-curved beak has become a recognised symbol for bird conservation. Always an uncommon bird, the avocet became extinct in Britain in the 19th century. In the 1940s, as parts of the east coast were flooded as military defences during the Second World War, avocets made a welcome return to the British Isles.

Whilst the young can run about and feed themselves within a few hours of hatching, chick survival can be poor, determined largely by predation, weather and food supply and the need for careful management of nesting sites to present the ideal breeding conditions.

Tony Martin, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Reserves Manager for East Yorkshire, said: “It’s a delight to have had so many avocet hatchings this year. The area is safe and secure and we hope they successfully fledge. North Cave Wetlands is fast proving to be an outstanding success story for the Trust. It’s a great example of what can be achieved through careful and intelligent management of the landscape, in hand with the vision and support of Humberside Aggregates and the local community.”

Christopher Hearn, Humberside Aggregates Limited, Technical and Restoration Manager, said: “Working with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, especially Tony and patron Stephen Martin, is highly rewarding in terms of the benefits that successful restoration achieves. We are excited to be undertaking the Trust’s new designs to the West of the current North Cave Wetlands and in bringing these to fruition.”

Close to 80 hectares (around 190 acres) of former quarry land at North Cave is now actively managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and, most recently, the charity has been developing exciting and very different plans with ecological consultancy Middlemarch Environmental and Humberside Aggregates to complete the restoration of the next part of the site.

Work is soon to begin on the next phases of the ambitious scheme, with an immediate aim for two further large lakes to be completed by 2019. As quarrying completes on the remaining sections of the site the land will continue to be progressively restored to provide a patchwork of wetland habitats, extending the footprint of the existing nature reserve to 140 hectares.

List of YWT Nature Reserves (A-Z)

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