Indoor Meeting: Berney Marshes – Speaker Mark Smart. 16th May 2019

Since I can remember I have always been involved with livestock, machinery and had an interest in wading birds. Growing up as a dairyman’s son they were very much in my blood. Add to this mix a passion for anything that had long legs, feathers and a bill that used the amazing estuaries in the UK, the decision to try and make these things my next career was a ‘no brainer’ when I decided to leave farming. I was finally able to make this change in 1994 when I applied and was successful for a trainee warden position at Strumpshaw Fen under Mike Blackburn. The rest is history. I was made a permanent member of staff when the RSPB purchased Buckenham and Cantley Marshes in 1996 and working with the team, we set about reverting it into a wet grassland reserve filled with thousands of waterfowl and increasing numbers of breeding waders. Developing this site is where most of my thoughts and ideas on wet grassland came from. In 2001 I was offered the position as site manager at Berney Marshes and Breydon Water. Over the last 19 years at Berney we have seen the reserve grow both in terms of size, now nearing 900ha, we have reverted 2 large areas from arable to grassland, and seen the importance for breeding and wintering birds increase. We have increased the role that the reserve plays in helping identify, steer and change RSPB wet grassland habitat managment, predation management, as well as being able to demonstrate that you can have a commercial livestock business and still have good numbers of breeding waders and wintering waterfowl.

Using the skills that the Berney team have we have also worked with over 40 landowners in the Broads to help them improve their management for wildlife, with the most recent and public success being at Herringfleet Marsh, Somerleyton, where we have been working with the landowner for a number of years and in 2018 he finally raised water levels having an immediate effect on wintering birds and breeding Lapwing and Redshank returning for the first time for about 10 years. In 2018, as recognition for the work that has been done not only at Berney and Breydon but also with other landowners, I was nominated and awarded the 2018 Marsh Christian Charity Lifetime Award for Wetland Conservation Achievement. This was a very proud moment for me and one that I was not expecting. The success was down to the work that both myself and the team at Berney Marshes have put in to develop strong lasting relationships with local landowners as well as delivering the management of Berney to a very high level.

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