Walk on the wild side in Stanstead Abbotts

Louise McEvoy takes a walk on the wild side in Stanstead Abbotts...

IF you are looking for a peaceful place to take a relaxing stroll with the family, you should try the RSPB's Rye Meads nature reserve in Stanstead Abbotts.Situated on Rye Road, Rye Meads is a fantastic wetland nature reserve and a great place for everyone - you don't have to be a wildlife expert to enjoy it. It's a favourite with families, walkers, birdwatchers and photographers and, best of all, it's free.There are 10 hides, with wheelchair access, which offer amazing views of wildlife and from the hides you can see wet meadows, open water and artificial habitats.Louise Moss, information officer at the reserve, says, 'Some of our star species are the kingfishers and common terns. There is an artificial nesting bank for the kingfishers, designed and built by Rye Meads volunteers about 15 years ago, and there is also a number of common tern nesting rafts.'In the visitor centre there are two CCTV cameras which beam live images from the reserve, offering a fantastic way to get up close to the wildlife. During the summer the cameras look at the rafts common terns breed on.'The cameras allow us to get great views of the birds as they lay eggs, as the eggs hatch, of the fluffy bundles that are chicks, and even as the chicks take their first experimental flight', says Louise. During the winter the cameras are moved onto different areas of the reserve, with amazing views of the wintering wildfowl.Louise explains, 'We are working to maintain and improve areas of open water for wintering wildfowl, including gadwall and shoveler, as well as breeding birds such as tufted ducks and little grebes.'We also hope to encourage breeding bitterns by expanding the reedbed. In winter, everyone keeps their eyes peeled for the elusive bittern! It is one of the rarest birds in the UK and is solely dependent on reedbeds.'The wetlands are great for wading birds, such as snipe, common and green sandpiper, lapwing and redshank. These birds like the muddy areas with shallow water.'Many species found at Rye Meads are amber and red listed species. Red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action, while amber is the next most critical group, followed by green. 'Rye Meads is a fantastic habitat for all creatures, not just birds', Louise enthuses. 'We have a fantastic number of plants, insects, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and mammals.'The reserve is open daily from 10am to 5pm (or dusk if earlier) all year round, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.You can keep an eye on the wildlife at Rye Meads from your own home - go to www.rspb.org.uk/webcams

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