Blog Post: Making a mark at Marshside

Site Manager Tony Baker retires from the Ribble Reserves Tony Baker, the long standing site manager at Marshside for nearly 30 years, has now made the bold move into retirement after throwing all his passion and commitment into what was at the time, a newly acquired land mass on the coast of Southport in 1994. He has worked solidly and tirelessly to protect and restore important habitats both at Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh, acquired by the RSPB in 2006. Tony began his career with the RSPB whilst still a teenager, volunteering at RSPB Arne in Dorset. After roles at a number of nature reserves across the UK, he became Warden at the newly created RSPB Marshside reserve in 1994. He said: “In the mid-1990s when the RSPB took on the lease of an area of coastal grassland at Marshside, there was a growing realisation that our coast was something we should treasure rather than exploit and abuse. This amazing wetland had been destined to be a housing estate but was saved following years of campaigning by local conservationists. The area now has enormous biodiversity with a variety of wildlife and plants in the summer and huge numbers of wetland birds during the winter months.” Since those early days, the reserve has been extended to include the saltmarshes and the adjacent Crossens Marsh. A second reserve was then acquired at Hesketh Out Marsh in 2006. This was to become one of the largest managed realignment sites in Europe with the restoration of over 300 hectares of saltmarsh. More recently, the RSPB’s conservation work has been recognised with the incorporation of the RSPB reserves into the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve, which now stretches along the coast from Marshside all the way to the River Douglas. The RSPB’s reserves form part of the wider Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve, managed to protect its important populations of breeding waders and wintering wildfowl, and other wildlife including sea bass, otters, orchids and wintering birds of prey. The estuary’s saltmarshes and wetlands also benefit people, by reducing flood risk to homes and businesses, and helping to tackle climate change by storing carbon. Tony stresses that there is still a lot of work to do: “With the help of our fantastic volunteers we have been able to protect and improve one of the most important wetlands in the country. Unfortunately, we are living through a nature and climate crisis which threatens our own survival. More people are realising that our natural world is not a luxury but a necessity. These RSPB reserves exemplify this by not only providing a contribution to our physical and mental wellbeing but also by providing vital services, helping us by locking-up carbon and protecting us from increasingly regular flood and storm events.” More recently, the RSPB’s conservation work has been recognised with the incorporation of the RSPB reserves into the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve, which now stretches along the coast from Marshside all the way to the River Douglas. The Ribble Estuary’s mudflats and saltmarsh make up one of the most important wetlands in the UK – home to more than 250,000 birds in winter including oystercatchers , black tailed godwits, curlews , redshanks and lapwing . Tens of thousands of pink-footed geese also flock from their Arctic breeding grounds to over-winter here, huge skeins evident across the skies from September onwards. Many new nesting species have been drawn to the area with gadwall , tufted duck , avocet, little ringed plover , Cetti’s and reed warblers all breeding within the reserves since their creation. Many others have increased enormously - there are now 25 pairs of shoveler versus one pair in 1981. Sadly, other species, like lapwing and grey partridge who used to be more widespread and typically found on agricultural land, have declined since the 1980s. Tony states: “I’ve been very lucky to have worked through a period of great gains for wildlife on the reserves and growing public appreciation of the importance of wildlife. Things have not been going so well for wildlife in the wider countryside, but I’m hopeful that we will see more and more people working for wildlife away from our nature reserves as well as on them in the future. The nature and climate crises requires action to be taken by everyone and not just by conservationists.” Tony leaves a huge legacy and big boots to fill and his name will be forever ingrained there. Steadying the ship is Alex Piggott, long standing Ribble Reserves warden who has worked alongside Tony for many years and I am sure he will still be on tap for a helping hand here and there, on return from his rather exotic retirement break at least. Jo Covering photo of Marshside by David Wootton RSPB-images, Tony Baker by Andy Hay RSPB-images, wader flock by Martin Campbell