Tales from Gazen Salts

To Begin With …

Season 3
Gazen Salts Today

Gazen Salts – l believe to be one of the original leaflets.

See Here for Seasons One and Two of Tales from Gazen Salts Nature Reserve Directory

Rather interestingly, whilst clearing out the Nissan Hut last year, l found a much older Gazen Salts Nature Reserve leaflet than the one l displayed in Season One’s episode, A Brief History to Gazen Salts Nature Reserve – Part 2, which was from 2010. The older leaflet l came across was from, l believe, the later 90s.

Whilst the information within was, for the better part, very similar to the later leaflet from 2010, there were other differences to be seen and educated with.
For starters, it made a direct reference to the founder of Gazen Salts, Mr Dennis Harle, who l made a brief reference of my own in the episode A Brief History to Gazen Salts Nature Reserve – Part 1, as well as showing the man himself in a rare image.

Some of the original founding members of Gazen Salts, who created the reserve with Dennis in 1973, are still volunteers at the reserve today. This year is their fiftieth anniversary. I think of the active conservationists – Mike and Pete, who are now in their early to late seventies, having worked on the beginnings of the projects in their twenties.

Dennis Harle and Mike Briggs 1973
Dennis F Harle was born in 1920 in Sandwich, Kent and passed away in 2001. He studied at the Thanet School of Art and later at the School of Art in Canterbury. He was a keen wildlife naturalist known for his passion and love for ornithology, painting, photography, illustration and conservation.

Most of his adult life was spent working in nature reserves in and around Kent, and indeed he was the very first warden at Gazen Salts Nature reserve.

He was also one of the founder members of the SWLA – Society of Wildlife Artists. It was indeed Dennis Harle who illustrated the original leaflet. In addition, he was a founding member of Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust (SBBOT) and founded the nature reserve at Gazen Salts. Dennis was an accomplished and well-known bird and botanical artist. He was a celebrated artist for several books covering bird species, including contributing the coloured frontispiece alongside line drawings for The Birds of Kent 1981.

The general shape of the reserve doesn’t change it is as it is; however some of the names do. You can see from the leaflet the map is broken into eight main areas. These being –
Old Reserve NamesNames of Today
The LakeNorth and South Lake
The WaterwaysUnnamed Waterways
The Round PondThe Round Pond
Experimental AreaUnnamed Experimental Area
Woodland WalkUnnamed Woodland Walk
The ScrapeThe Scrape
The BramblesRobin’s Walk
The TipRobin’s Walk

It also clearly displays the pathways. The layout is mostly the same, but it is always fascinating to learn more about the original history of an area.

Concerning the background, l am more fascinated with this given how hard it can prove to find anything historically inclined in Sandwich regarding literature. The reserve’s history is the same. With each new leaflet making the rounds, more information started to resemble the parlour game Telephone.

However, all this aside, l thought l would share some of these newer ‘older’ findings with you.

Gazen Salts began in 1973, inspired by the European Conservation Year of 1970. At that time, Sandwich Borough Council decided to dedicate 13 acres of unwanted lands to the project – made up of grazing lands, allotments and a refuse tip. The area was to be designed and created and sown and planted and then wardened by local naturalist Dennis Harle. The last post was his for twelve years.

Gazen Salts derived from a 17th-century leaseholder of the area known as the Saltings, John Gason.

Back in the mid-eighties, Gazen Salts, by which time was nearly twenty years of age, was home to a flourishing biodiversity of flora and fauna species. It could boast sixty-plus species of trees and shrubs from around the local Area of Sandwich.

The small range of birdlife that had begun as the original species of the reserve was now a bustling and thriving avian community numbering 30 breeding species, including migration species, as well as over one hundred and fifty different species seen in the reserve or passing through.

By the later eighties and early nineties, the area known as Gazen Salts Natural Wildlife Reserve displayed how important it was to dedicate natural habitats to help conserve and preserve British wildlife.

It was an interesting read, and as l wrote above, whilst much of this information was not new to me, l was just pleased to read the literature from a more personal perspective instead of the more clinical approach the new leaflet displays now. The information we have today is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Of course, perhaps more enlightening were the descriptions of the areas of Gazen Salts, as they were called back in the day. But they also mentioned species that once resided in the reserve itself. Finding the balance for the progression today is essential, given the potential and opportunity for new strategies with the change and demise of the last Chairman.

The desire from the conservationists is to return to a more hands-on management plan that allows for more decisions to be made by the volunteers, and that was the original wish of Dennis Harle when he first created Gazen salts alongside Mike and Pete and other founders of the reserve. It was also how things were managed back when this old leaflet was circulating.

The balance required is between the then of yesterday and the nows of today.

Also fascinating was that the walk to the car park from Gazen Salts thirty years ago along the Guestling was actually called The Guestling Walk which we will try to reintroduce with the introduction of the Natural Wildlife Garden.

Today many don’t even know that stream is the Guestling.

Yesterday’s Gazen Salts looking at today’s.

The original Lake is now called North and South Lake and, before the dreadful floods of 2013, was home to many species of both migration and local wildfowl.

The back of the then lake was left undisturbed for quieter nesting species like the Black and White Tufted Duck, a winter visitor, Pochards, Shovelers and occasionally Pintails.

The Waterways today are not directly referred to in literature. Still, everyone refers to them as the waterways or supporting inner dikes fed by the sluice gate on the River stour located to the rear of the reserve itself, supported by a different invertebrate community of Sticklebacks which encouraged Kingfishers to fish, Moorhen, Sedge Warblers and Winter Rails in the winter months. Water shrews and voles were also residents of yesterday’s reserve.

Today we have a few species returning to the area. The rodent species – shrews and voles have been seen and heard, albeit in much smaller numbers. But plans are afoot to redevelop the lake and waterways to introduce water voles for conservation purposes and eventually repopulate the area.

The Round Pond is still called that, and you have seen in previous episodes the works performed there by the volunteers. It is a freshwater pond whose sole purpose was to help develop and recreate lost habitats that are fast disappearing from the countryside. Yellow Iris, Gypsywort, Meadowsweet, Ragged Robin, Ladies Smock and Common Figwort, to name but a few of the species that are still present and have slowly been reintroduced over the years.

The presence of these species will encourage invertebrates back in higher numbers, such as frogs, newts, dragonflies, grass snakes, and slow worms.

The experimental area is no longer called that. It isn’t called anything. It is just an area to the side of the lake. It once housed many years ago a bird-watching hide, the second such building in Gazen Salts. For today we only have one found near the Round Pond.

But this area was for experimentation, a practice that was being worked with when l first joined in 2021. At that time, wildflowers had been planted. Back then, many types of grass and wilder flowers had been planted to encourage butterflies and moths like the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper. Cowslips were reintroduced to boost the flora. Long Tailed tits were sometimes present in the hedgerows, although today, they can be found feeding at the bird stations.

Stoats and weasels were occasionally seen in this area. Also, those species are still resident, although in smaller numbers. The floods in 2013 caused incredible damage to the reserve, but ten years later, we are still on the journey of recovery, repair, and reintroduction, making headway and achieving success.

The Woodland Walk was awarded that name, and l remember clearly back in 2021 when l first began still seeing the occasional signage that supported that. Still, they were old signs and whilst the walks could be more detailed, we have more modern signs that make up for directing walkers through the ‘woodland walks’. Some things always stay the same, even if not labelled.

In the woodland walking paths, you could find Hawthorn hedges, still present, which attracted many species. Like Fieldfares and Redwings. Primroses lined many of the old walkways, but the 2013 floods damaged and destroyed much of the plant life, and these will be replaced in time. They are still present in some areas, though.

We still have the likes of Pink Campion, Sweet Violet, Cow Parsley, Lesser Celandines and Alexanders, amongst many other species. The hardiest species lived on.

The Scrape is still referred to as the Scrape, although it has been hidden under dense foliage for the last ten years and is one of the last few areas of Gazen Salts to be uncovered, which l believe is to happen this year. It was initially a wader scrape but is now a reedbed where warblers – Reed and Sedge are to be found in the summer months. I learned last year from Mike that Railings are still present and have been successfully breeding.

However, this hidden area is home to Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Fleabane, Ox-Eye Daisy, Cinnabar and many different moth and butterfly species. The Common Lizard frequents this area also.

The Brambles is now known as Robin’s Walk, and as volunteers, we spent considerable time working in that area in the winter of 2021 and the early spring months of 2022. This area used to be an orchard and part of one of the initially allocated allotments for the town of Sandwich. This certainly explains how come spring through the later autumn, and so many fruit trees are available for foraging, such as apples and plums.

It was also home to many species which used it as a feeding zone due to the fallen produce. This, in turn, created valuable habitats and provided shelter and nesting areas. Linnets, Warblers and many butterfly species used to fly freely amongst the shrubbery and foliage.

Finally, The Tip, although not called anything separately today just part of Robin’s Walk, but it was the backend once behind the allotments and was the local dumping ground of refuse for the town. Although now it is home to one of our two resident fox pairs. It is higher than the rest of the reserve and overlooks the River Stour. Here you can usually see the Heron or the Cormorants and Snipes too.

This area is mainly near the sluice gate that feeds the dikes, and aside from the occasional wintering duck, the species dominating here are moorhens who are savvy and have learned that when the sluice gate opens, more small fish enter the reserve and are confused by the shift in water direction and can be quickly gobbled.

I was fascinated with this leaflet as it displayed how many species were lost due to the heavy floods ten years ago. Still, the exciting challenge is that as we recover the reserve and reintroduce lost floras and recreate and introduce new habitats, we are starting to see not just the older lost species return but also more unique species arrive for the first time.

Proving to us all that with the right amount of passion and love, care and attention, we can all do more when we think about it.

Designs – Earthly Comforts – Inspired by Nature – see collection here

Tales from Gazen Salts Nature Reserve is about my time and stories of my voluntary work with this project.

I’ll see you next episode. Thanks for reading.

Gazen Salts Nature Reserve
Sandwich, Kent, England, UK

Published by The Autistic Composter

Earthly Comforts is a wildlife journaling scrapbook focusing on the countryside, wildlife biodiversity and environmental conservation, flora and fauna volunteering projects, gardening, composting and vermiculture, inspiration, poetry and photography.

4 thoughts on “Tales from Gazen Salts

  1. Wow! Thank you for the comprehensive and interesting article on Gazen Salts. There is so much beautiful history to behold. No wonder you enjoy being involved in their projects.

    Liked by 1 person

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