Right by the roadside under a mound of earth and turf, a small wooden door marks the entrance to the new National Trust for Jersey Wetland interpretation centre that opened in 2014.
We have a bus full of Bournemouth University tourism students who have come to the island in order to learn about tourism development and marketing, and to experience the best of Jersey’s tourist attractions. As we walk through the doorway, we enter a Second World War bunker that is newly equipped as a bird hide with interpretation panels, windows overlooking the water and binoculars for those who arrive unequipped.
Gone are the days when bird hides were dark, cold, damp and unwelcoming. This one incorporates interactive screens and information panels that help the visitor to learn the calls and about the lives of the local birds. There are also a number of live webcams revealing the secret life of the marshes. The students’ presence fills this wooden space with laughter and bustle as they get on with their worksheets. Hides are not spaces they normally frequent.
Once a wartime fortification, this one has turned a dark history into a platform of natural history; aggression into tranquillity; a place to watch, reflect and learn.
Outside the window a marsh harrier glides effortlessly on the warm autumnal breeze past the green hills and the lines of neat houses in the distance. We are already pleased that we came. Out towards the water, Shelduck, Mallards, Tufted ducks, Comorants , Coots, Shoveler ducks, a grey Heron, a pair of Raven and a Cetti’s warbler make their presence known.
As our noisy group leave the hide to explore the coast behind, a flock of 9 Little Egret fly in unison over the reed beds; their wings flashing a brilliant white against the dark skies beyond. It is a pleasure to pass my binoculars to two young remaining students to share the delight of this moment. The egret’s arrival marks the beginning of an unfolding drama below us where several meadow pipits draw our eyes to the reeds behind. Here a shy and elusive Water rail skulks in and out of the edge of reeds with its distinctive red beak and grey and brown feathers. It’s activities flushes out a Snipe; standing large and proud in comparison. Its stripes striking against the darkness of the mud.
Just like a picture which takes time for your brain to interpret, our eyes suddenly pick up the entire flock of twenty plus Snipe that lay perfectly camouflaged right in front of the hide in the reedy stubble. Their heads tucked neatly under their wings. What a great start to the day.
British wetlands are decreasing at a phenomenal rate due to reclamation, agriculture and building. The importance of these small conserved spaces should never be understated as they provide a safe haven for our wetland species. The students, although not avid birdwatchers, had the opportunity to learn about the habitat and bird life before them and, even if only a few are inspired by nature, the National Trust will have done a good job.