Elmley, bird sanctuary in the Thames estuary

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)

At first sight, it’s not a spectacular destination. It’s a lowland in toned down colours. You hear birds sing and whoop; a paradise for lapwings and redshanks. It’s a very quiet place in a densley populated part of England. In the distance you spot the Sheppey Crossing over The Swale, lorries coming and going. London is only an hour away.

Elmley is an island estate in the Thames, part of the Isle of Sheppey. This national nature reserve is privately owned and managed by the Fulton family from Kingshill Farm, watching over 3300 acres of apparent emptiness. Farming goes hand in hand with nature and bird conservation. Elmley is marshy territory, a seasonal tide-land. Livestock is essential to keep the grass cropped. To optimally utilise the rainwater, ditches and leats are connected to flow pipes. In all decisions, nature seems to be given priority.

A wide pathway leads to four hides and a pool of water to spot the wading birds, but you can also see birds of prey including harriers and sparrowhawks. You need patience and binoculars for birdwatching, two things I lack. As the afternoon progressed, I increasingly started to like this subdued place. The landscape is somewhat similar to a quieter version of my native Netherlands. Just like in Zeeland, there were disastrous floods here in 1953 and ever since low sea walls have been constructed. Walls that now protect birds and not people.








Surround yourself with the straw-like and honey-ish colours of the expanse, the reed swaying in the wind and the silence. Nothing is loud, everything is low and light, and after an afternoon of walking, some of that quiet will certainly have rubbed off on you.







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