Blackwater Estuary on a Spring Tide

The view from the sea wall opposite Northey Island is wide and for the most part wild. The incoming water quickly covers the narrow road to leave flooded fence lines, bright yellow warning markers, and half-submerged telegraph poles; the last popular with resting gulls and oystercatchers.

On a rising Spring tide, the estuary is a fine sight as the waders and waterfowl are chased towards the saltmarsh edge like a beaten army.  Small flocks of dunlin rush up mid-channel, low over the water.  At least 500 Brent geese rise and fly in a single flock to drop into the adjacent field. Wigeon, teal and shelduck are on the water and black-tailed godwits, grey plover, curlew and redshank the mud.

Northey-11
Black-tailed godwits feeding on the last of the mud before the Spring tide floods the estuary

These waterbirds fly north and east to breed on a brief trip high above the Arctic circle to take advantage of the flush of food in the short summer. So the estuaries are where most spend more than half the year.

The wharves and boatyards on the edge of the water appear ramshackle but development on the Blackwater, as across many of the estuaries of north west Europe that sits within the East Atlantic flyway, is strictly controlled by habitat and species protection laws. Estuaries on the other side of the planet, especially along sections of the East Asian – Australasian flyway, are much less protected and as a consequence being squeezed by rapid development and sea-level rise such that the waterbird populations, including black-tailed godwits, there are currently declining rapidly.

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