“ Freiston Shore nature reserve can be found on the edge of The Wash - the UK's most important estuary for birds. It is 4 miles east of Boston, Lincolnshire. „
Freiston Shore is one of 302 nature reserves in the UK that is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It is located near Boston in Lincolnshire on the East Coast of England and occupies an area of around 210 acres of salt marshes that provide a unique habitat for birds, insects and plants. It is however especially noted for its bird life.
The nature reserve lies in an area of Britain known as The Wash, which has a status of international importance for its wildfowl (ducks, geese and swans), and waders. Each year it is the wintering grounds of hundreds of thousands of birds and during the summer months provides a breeding habitat for some of Britain's rarest birds. In additional to this it is also a magnet for spring and autumn migrants.
The unusual thing about Freiston Marsh is that the land has been reclaimed from the sea. Much of the land in this region lies below sea level and in 1982 a sea wall was built at Freiston to try to keep the rising sea levels at bay and protect the villages along this stretch of coast. The result was the formation of a series of shallow salt lagoons that soon began to attract birds and other wildlife. Such salt lagoons are now scarce in Britain and the RSPB saw the potential in developing this area with a view to bringing back some of the birds that had formerly inhabited the area but disappeared with the rising sea level and the loss of their habitat.
The key to the success of the new salt lagoons at Freiston would lie in the fact that the water levels of the lagoon could be regulated. This was achieved by digging a channel from the sea to the main lagoon that could be blocked off with a sluice gate. Since the majority of the bird species would be nesting on the artificial sandbanks and islands in the middle of the lagoon it was vital that the water levels were kept low during the breeding season so as not the flood the nests. On the other hand it was important too that the lagoons were not able to completely dry out even during a drought. Two decades on and Freiston Shore is an example of another RSPB success story.
I visited Freiston Shore in early June 2009. It is sign-posted from the main A16 road that runs from Boston towards Skegness but it isn't particularly easy to find. Once you finally reach Freiston village however there is only one road to follow out of the village that leads towards the shore. It is at the end of this road, approximately 1.5Km out of the village that you find a car parking area and see the lagoons in front of you. There is an area of the car park that is set aside for disabled visitors and a good quality footpath leads from the car park around the lagoon in either direction. During my visit I saw a couple of people with electric wheelchairs so it's obviously ideal for such devises.
A circular footpath runs all of the way around the reserve, which is marked "Lagoon Trail" and 1.8 Km in length (1.1 miles). I took the path to the right hand side of the car park but it doesn't really matter which way you go, as the route is circular and will bring you back to the car park. There is no admission charge to enter the reserve and it is accessible 24 hours a day. Dogs are allowed on the footpaths.
Along the route there is a wooden observation hide. This wooden hut is necessary to enable views across the water, as the vegetation along either side of the footpath is so high that you can't see over the top of it. The hide is fully accessible for wheelchair users and contains a wealth of information for both the amateur and established naturalist alike. Information boards provide details of the latest sightings and there are pictures of some of the birds that you are likely to see, which serve as observation guides.
In early June the lagoon was full of Avocets, a black and white wading bird with an unusually long bill that curves upwards. It is quite appropriate that this bird has been adopted as the symbol of the RSPB and the organisations efforts in Suffolk and Norfolk have brought the bird back from near extinction to several thousands of pairs. This population explosion has seen the bird expanding into neighbouring counties in recent years and it has been breeding at Freiston for the last few years, this year around 40 pairs have successfully bred. The lagoon was quite literally full of tiny fluffy Avocet chicks and some of these were right in front of the hide, but there were plenty of other birds too including a large flock of Godwits, another type of wader, some of which were in their magnificent red-brown summer plumage.
If bird watching isn't really your thing then Freiston Shore might still be worth a visit as it is a lovely area to walk even if you ignore all of the wildlife around you. There isn't any access to the shore though as the area immediately between the sea and the footpath around the lagoons is deliberately out of bounds so that the birds that nest here are not disturbed. In particular a bird called a Little Tern nests on the shingle beach and can do so completely undisturbed. This is a species that always nests on pebbly beaches and as a result of this has seen a rapid decline in numbers since its breeding habitats are usually vulnerable to disturbance and many eggs are unintentionally crumbled beneath human feet every year.
Above the footpath there are a couple of elevated viewpoints that overlook the reserve although to reach these it is necessary to scramble up a rather steep banking. If you are able however then you get a lovely view across the green flat fields of Lincolnshire and into Norfolk beyond.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Freiston Shore and I would recommend it to others.
RSPB Freiston Shore
Tel (01205) 724678