THE RIVER Severn estuary alongside the Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) has risen to the highest level any staff and volunteers can remember since 1982.

The unusually high tide expanded the width of the Severn Estuary considerably ,with waters reaching out an extra half-mile right up to the bank that defends WWT’s buildings and waterfowl gardens against extreme events.

But the water stopped rising nearly two metres below the top of the bank. Which meant hundreds of visitors to Slimbridge Wetland Centre had the chance to see thousands of wild birds like shelduck, white-fronted geese, lapwing, dunlin, wigeon and curlew who are benefitting from a temporary increase in their watery habitat.

There is a high number of birds around the centre at the moment – about 50,000 in total - including near-record numbers of golden plover, with about 4,000 in view.

Reserve Manager Dave Paynter said: “We were a bit wary this morning as the river channel swelled to become a sea and was actually higher than us, with just the defensive bank in between.

“But it soon became clear the defence would hold. And we’ve had some of the best wildlife-watching conditions imaginable, with flocks of thousands of lapwing circling around us.

“WWT is about wetlands which aren’t just important for wildlife, they’re also important to people because they protect us from flooding. In our case, the wetland strip along the River Severn absorbs most tidal flooding so the defensive wall is only needed very occasionally.”

WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre is aiming to remain open during the week's bad weather.