Reedbeds are an important habitat for many species of wetland animals and plants. Within the UK their importance and decline in recent yeares has led them to be designated as a UK BAP habitat, of the 900 or so sites in the UK only about 50 are over 20ha in size. Reedbeds are dominated by the common reed Phragmites australis which can grow to over four metres in height. Of the species associated with reedbeds, of particular note are bitterns and Marsh Harriers as well as 5 red data book invertebrates.
There are around 5000 ha of reedbeds in the UK. Of the 900 sites contributing to this total, only around 50 of them are over 20 ha. Reed beds support a distinctive breeding bird assemblage including six nationally rare Red Data Birds:
- Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)
- Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
- Crane (Grus grus)
- Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti )
- Savi's Warbler (Locustella luscinioides) and
- Bearded Tit (Panurus biarmicus).
Reedbeds are also important for migratory bird species and are used as roost sites by some raptors in the winter months.
Current threats include:
- Small total area of habitat
- Loss of area through excessive water extraction and (in the past), drainage and conversion into intensive agriculture
- Lack of, or innapropriate, management leading to scrub encroachment and succession
- Most of the import reedbeds in the UK are found on or near the east coast, an area where sea level rises are predicted to lead to the loss of significant areas of habitat
- Pollution of freshwater to the reedbed including siltation, trophic accumulation, eutrophication and chemical pollution.
Reed beds are an important habitat supporting populations of rare animals and as such, they have been given a Habitat Action Plan (HAP) to ensure they are protected and managed accordingly. Most of the more significant reedbeds in the UK are notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)/Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI). Many are notified as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under EC Birds Directive. Several of the larger reedbeds are managed as National Nature Reserves (NNR) by English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales, and as reserves of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and county Wildlife Trusts.
The action plan objectives and targets for reed beds are:
- By the year 2000, rehabilitate the priority areas of existing reedbed (targeting those of 2ha or more)
- Maintain priority areas of existing reedbed by active management
- Create 1,200 ha of new reedbed on land of low nature conservation interest by 2010
There are also proposed actions by lead agencies which include:
- Develop a clear national strategy for reedbed creation and management by 1997, cross-relating to coastal management plans, set-aside and mineral extraction plans, and ensuring that an effective level of monitoring and inventory is maintained
- Consider modifying or expanding existing habitat schemes to encourage and allow for the creation of 1,200 ha of reedbed. Priority should be given also to reedbed creation as a preferred condition of after-use for mineral extraction sites
- Encourage the development of both sympathetic water abstraction, water level management policies and of appropriate coastal zone management plans in order to protect existing reedbeds
- Ensure that development schemes do not affect the integrity or the conservation interest of reedbeds
- Acquire land of low nature conservation interest for the creation of new reedbeds
- Ensure favourable management of key reedbeds by 2010, offering, long-term, targeted management agreements for reedbed management on important sites
- Ensure that authorities creating new reedbeds for effluent treatment and other primary purposes receive up-to-date advice on reedbed creation for wildlife
- Promote pan-European co-operation on research, conservation and management of reedbeds and reedbed species
- Promote research into the ecology of key GB reedbed species, particularly in relation to management such as cutting regimes, burning and mere and dyke management
- Ensure the continued surveillance of population distribution, size and productivity for key GB reedbed species and of water levels, water quality and current reedbed management for all significant reedbeds
- Begin large-scale trials of the use of reedbeds for reducing point and diffuse source agricultural pollution by 1998.