In late 2019, the Environment Agency began work to upgrade the flood defence scheme on the River Tamar at Calstock. This involved building new embankments inland, breaching the redundant embankment and in time enabling about 27 acres of low grade pasture to become coastal reedbed. Most of the earthwork was finished by the autumn of 2020. This just left the breaching of the now redundant embankment, which had to be delayed until the autumn of 2021 so that a footbridge could be built to span the 30m wide breach, thus retaining the footpath that runs along the top of the embankment.
The material that was used to build up the new embankment was excavated to create a series of ponds and channels to give shape to the new wetlands. For about a year, the area has developed naturally as a freshwater wetland. Local walkers have been fascinated by the different species of birds which have moved in. The first significant visitors to arrive were a handful of Green Sandpiper which turned up even before the contractors left, and stuck around all winter. Later in the season the Snipe arrived: up to about 40 were counted.
A Facebook page has started, ‘Calstock Wetlands Birdwatchers Group’. Members are encouraged to post observations thus informing the group about what is happening out there: birds, flowers and insects. It also provides a record of how the wetlands evolve. Membership is currently running at over 300.
Writing in September 2021, the construction of the bridge is now in progress, and the breaching of the embankment intended for the end of October is much anticipated. No one is sure how the incoming saltwater is going to impact the site. The land has been excavated to provide a range of levels, where different micro-habitats can establish giving a wide scope of interest. The water this far up river is on the sweet side of brackish, so it is hoped that much of the existing vegetation will hold its own for a while until the reed beds fully establish.
Once this final stage of the development is complete the Environment Agency, which will continue to own the land, will hand over the leasehold to the Tamar Community Trust. The Trust was established in 2009 to maintain areas of public access throughout the Tamar Valley AONB using a volunteer workforce. The wetlands should require a minimum of management, however the Trust is keen to ensure that visitors to the site benefit from all the site has to offer. The Trust is excited to announce that it is setting up in partnership with the CBWPS and Cornwall Wildlife Trust who will help the Trust with their expertise and backing.
Local residents and visitors from further afield are enjoying the evolving wetlands from both the riverside walk and a quiet lane back to the village, forming a handy circular walk. This is easily accessible form the car park in the centre of Calstock village.
Pete Thompson & Juliet Hilary