Rockcliffe Salt Marsh is one of the largest saltmarshes in Britain, at about 2800 acres, but its margins are constantly changing through accretion and erosion. This, and the fact that it is farmed as well as (or despite) having multiple layers of protected status, makes it an intriguing and very special place.
The marsh is surrounded on three sides by water: it dominates the head of the Solway Firth, bounded by the River Eden on the South and a loop of the River Esk on the North. Like all salt marshes, it is low-lying land, jig-sawed by muddy creeks. Hundreds of years of animal grazing on the marsh along with regular saltwater flooding produce the special habitat that we see today.
Recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), it is not only a nationally important site for wading birds, but is also of huge interest to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and local wild-fowling enthusiasts.
The grazing cattle and sheep help prevent the vegetation from becoming too thick. The animals manure also feed insects which in turn feed many birds and chicks. Dams have been installed to block old drainage ditches and restore the shallow open pools, important for insects. This creates the ideal feeding ground for the range of birds and animals, which live here.
The marsh is home to a large amount of breeding waders including Lapwing, Redshank and Oyster Catchers, along with a huge number of breeding Skylark. There have also been recent sightings of an increased amount of Egrets to the area.
During the winter months, the marsh is home to many of the
40, 000 Svalbard Barnacle geese, who come to feed and roost before heading back to the Artic for the summer months. There are also a very large number of Pinkfeet and Greylag as well as other wildfowl such as Widgeon, Teal and Mallard.