Merse­head gets hon­our Work com­mended in RSPB awards

The Galloway News - - COUNTRY SIDE - Stu­art Gille­spie

A project at a na­ture re­serve has been praised at the RSPB Na­ture of Scot­land Awards.

Fifty years of farm­ing and con­ser­va­tion at Merse­head, South­wick, was highly com­mended in the food and farm­ing sec­tion of the awards, cospon­sored by Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage.

The awards aim to cel­e­brate the pas­sion­ate and ded­i­cated peo­ple fight­ing to save Scot­land’s wildlife and its unique and spe­cial places.

The RSPB ac­quired Merse­head Farm in 1994 and re­tained Eric Neil­son, who had worked there since 1968, as farm man­ager. He quickly put his in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the site to good use for con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment, trans­form­ing the site from an arable farm to a mag­nif­i­cent wet­land.

Former wa­ter cour­ses have been re­stored, reedbeds, wet grass­lands and pool sys­tems es­tab­lished and plan­ta­tions and scrub en­croach­ment have been re­moved. Eric’s skilled use of the 3600 tracked dig­ger and trac­tors has pro­duced ideal con­di­tions for a va­ri­ety of wildlife.

The site some­times has more than 110 pairs of breed­ing wad­ing birds, more than 300 nat­ter­jack toads and more than 10,000 win­ter­ing bar­na­cle geese.

Eric re­tained a small area of wildlife­friendly arable ro­ta­tion on the sandier soils and this pro­vides win­ter food for thou­sands of farm­land birds, as well as ce­re­als and hay.

The wildlife spec­ta­cle on the coastal flood­plain also draws vis­i­tors from near and far who can en­joy the many walks, the hides and vis­i­tor cen­tre.

Al­most none of this would have been achieved with­out Eric and his trusty dig­ger, his agri­cul­tural knowl­edge, skills and ded­i­ca­tion, all of which he has been keen to pass on as he men­tors the team at Merse­head.

RSPB Scot­land area man­ager An­drew Bielin­ski said: “Eric has been a bril­liant am­bas­sador and demon­stra­tor of how wildlife and con­ser­va­tion can go hand in hand. His work at Merse­head has trans­formed a mixed arable and dairy farm into a won­der­ful wet­land to the ben­e­fit of a huge ar­ray of wildlife. The many staff and vol­un­teers over the years have all gained from his knowl­edge and we are de­lighted that, in his re­tire­ment, he will con­tinue as a vol­un­teer and keep an eye on all of us.”

Skills Eric Neil­son in his trusty trac­tor at Merse­head

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