About the nature reserve

What is the area of the reserve?

About 46 hectares (113 acres), much of this is rough pasture containing small ponds and wet ditches/hedgerows; there are 4 larger areas of water, 3 of which are overlooked by hides and 1 is a deeper pool in the sanctuary. The sanctuary is a mixture of scrubby woodland and wildflower meadow. There are 2 additional fields at the top of the reserve closest to Sheepway, one is leased out for horse grazing, the other used for a hay cut.http://www.avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserves/portbury-wharf

Why is the reserve important?

Firstly: it is a vital buffer of green land between Portishead and the Portbury Dock industrial complex.
Secondly: it links the important reserves of the Gordano Valley (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) and the Severn Estuary (an internationally important wetland site – a Ramsar site)

Thirdly: it is the first nature reserve in the UK maintained by a levy charged to the residents of the adjoining housing development. This was seen as a landmark arrangement for funding nature conservation. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/dec/01/residents-fund-nature-reserve

What is the main wildlife interest on the reserve?

Breeding birds include: barn owl, little owl, oystercatcher, little ringed plover, little grebe, gadwall, tufted duck, lesser whitethroat, Cetti’s warbler, reed warbler, reed bunting, cuckoo

Winter visitors usually include: good numbers of ducks, including widgeon and shoveler, water rail, lapwing, snipe

Also lots of species move through on migration, the list even includes such rarities as peduline tit, spoonbill, bittern and wryneck (http://www.portbury-wharf-ringing.co.uk)

Mammals include: Water voles, hares, rabbits, badgers, foxes, roe deer, several bat species

Reptiles/amphibians: good numbers of grass snakes, slow worms, toads, frogs, great-crested newts, smooth newts

Insects: a rich diversity of dragon and damselflies, a good variety of meadow butterflies

Flowers: bee orchid, spotted orchid, wide variety of meadow and water plants

What is the history of the reserve?

In 2002 Persimmon Homes was granted planning permission by North Somerset Council (NSC) to develop the land on the edge of Portishead known as the Ashlands and build a new estate of over 2500 houses. Planning permission was dependent on a Section 106 agreement that required the developers to form a nature reserve to act as a buffer between Portishead and the Portbury Dock complex. Persimmon were also required to find a suitable conservation body to manage the nature reserve that they had created and Avon Wildlife Trust (AWT) were chosen to be that body.

The management of the reserve was paid for by a levy raised on the residents of the 2500 new houses. It was generally understood that the ownership of the land would be passed from Persimmon Homes to AWT and as such would become a nature reserve in perpetuity. However in April 2015 North Somerset Council abolished the resident’s levy and in 2016 took over the management of the reserve from AWT.  The reason given for the change was that the levy was unfair and unsustainable. North Somerset Council’s stated intention is to maintain the reserve, but without the input from Avon Wildlife Trust.

For many this was a controversial decision amid fears that while North Somerset Council may intend to manage it as a nature reserve for the immediate future, there is no obligation on any future council to continue to do so and could decide to change the use of the land at any time in the future.

Who owns the land?

At the moment (May 2017) the freehold is still held by Persimmon Homes, the developer but North Somerset Council is seeking title of the land.

Why was the Friends of Portbury Wharf set up?

In 2015, when the levy was abolished, the Friends of Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve was set up to to try to safeguard and protect the long term future of the reserve. In 2017 we started talking with the key stakeholders including Portishead Town Council and North Somerset Council, to try to influence the future of the nature reserve and to protect and promote this much loved local community resource.

We are not a political organisation and our key concern is bringing wildlife and community closer together as ultimately the more people who get involved, use and love the reserve the safer its long term future will be.

What staff manage the reserve?

North Somerset Council became responsible for the day to day management of the reserve in 2016 and have contracted this work to Glendale.

What are the cows doing on the reserve?

Local farmers bring them in during the summer to graze the rough pasture to stop it getting too long and overtaken by scrub. It makes a better habitat for barn owls to hunt over.

What management work gets done?

A lot is routine path, hide and hedgerow maintenance to keep the public areas open and useable; autumn/winter grassland cutting to maintain species rich meadow and stop bramble/scrub encroachment; cutting back scrub to enlarge the flower meadow in the sanctuary; reed clearing in the ponds and ditches to keep them open; survey work to measure the variety of species and their densities….

Why has the path along the bund been fenced in?

To protect the rhyne (wet ditch) from dogs. This is the main water vole habitat and there was a lot of disturbance from dogs being allowed to swim in the ditches.

Who manages the Ecology Park?

The Ecology Park was not originally part of the nature reserve but since 2017 it is now included and managed as part of the reserve.

What about the bund?

The bund is the main sea defence for the housing. It is managed as part of the reserve, being cut to maintain the grass as good hunting for barn owls.

What about the old seawall and salt marsh?

These are not part of the reserve, though the salt marsh is an important wildlife habitat for plants, waders and wildfowl. It is part of the Severn Estuary Ramsar site – recognised for its international importance to wildlife.

Why are there no dog bins on most of the reserve?

Dog bins can only be placed where there is access for the vehicles which come round to empty them. Wharf Lane is the only place on the reserve with such access.

What is the risk of the reserve flooding at the highest tides?

Much of the reserve is low lying and at risk from inundation because the old sea wall is now no longer fit for purpose. With future sea level rises it is likely that the sea wall will be overtopped with increasing frequency. The reserve should therefore act as a managed flood risk area – a sort of buffer to absorb high tidal surges. The bund is now the main sea defence for the Village Quarter.
Periodic seawater flooding could make the reserve even more interesting as a wildlife habitat, especially if it is landscaped and managed in anticipation.

The top fields near Sheepway are above the flood risk area and are therefore a potential site for future housing development.