Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Climate change leaving seabirds with nowhere to tern

One of the UK’s rarest seabirds could become a victim of climate change as rising seas and increased coastal flooding squeezes the UK’s coastline.

Little terns, the UK’s smallest tern species, return each April to breed on beaches at fewer than sixty sites around the UK. Traditional colonies at South Gare on the Tees and Donna Nook in Lincolnshire have already been lost due to changes in our coastline and just one nesting site remains in Wales.

Predictions of increased coastal flooding and sea level rise caused by climate change could spell disaster for these elegant seabirds. This warning comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issue their latest reports on climate change [note 2].

Susan Rendell-Read is the RSPB’s little tern project manager “Little terns are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. They need undisturbed sand and shingle beaches to nest with a plentiful supply of small fish just offshore. These beaches can be quickly altered by rising seas and floods, making them unsuitable for terns to nest.”

“In the past, the areas lost to flooding or storms would be offset by new areas of sand or shingle thrown up by the sea. This is now being prevented by hard sea defences and other man made developments. The result, known as coastal squeeze, means beaches are getting narrower and the little terns are quickly running out of space.”

“As rising sea levels and storms change our coastline, little terns are forced into fewer and fewer colonies and have to share space with people on some of our most popular beaches, leading to significant problems with disturbance.”

A major new five-year partnership including the RSPB, Natural England and the National Trust [note 3] has been established to help little terns adapt to climate change and secure their future in the UK. This partnership, supported by the EU LIFE + programme will lay the foundations for the long-term recovery of the little tern in the UK by protecting and creating nest sites and increasing public awareness and support.

An important part of the recovery plan is ensuring that the few sites where little terns continue to breed are protected from disturbance [note 4]. The RSPB and its partners are keen to raise awareness amongst local communities and beachgoers to give little terns space to breed safely and in peace.
Victoria Egan manages little tern colonies for the National Trust at Blakeney National Nature Reserve in Norfolk said “local communities and beachgoers have a vital role to play in helping little terns cope with the increasing threat of climate change. These tiny seabirds need space to breed undisturbed so we are urging visitors to these beaches to follow any directions and advice given on local signs on the beach and avoid entering certain areas while the little terns are breeding”.

Susan added “These dainty little seabirds, no heavier than a tennis ball, have just started returning to our shores after travelling thousands of miles from their wintering sites off the south and west coasts of Africa. We need to make sure that they have the best chance of finding a suitable home when they arrive.”
For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Richard James, RSPB media officer: 01767 680551 Out of hours: 07834 534970
Broadcast-quality radio interviews:
To arrange an ISDN broadcast-quality radio interview please contact Richard James at the RSPB press office.
Images are available on request from Richard James at the RSPB press office.
Editor’s notes:
1. The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
2. The IPCC 5th Assessment Report Working Group II – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was published on March 31st and Working group III – Mitigation on 14th April http://www.ipcc.ch/index.htm.

3. The EU LIFE + Project partners are
·         Cumbria Wildlife Trust 
·         Denbighshire County Council 
·         Durham County Council 
·         Industry Nature Conservation Association 
·         Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust 
·         Northumberland  Coast AONB partnership 
·         Northumberland County Council 
·         Natural England 
·         National Trust 
·         RSPB
·         Spurn Bird Observatory Trust
4. Little terns are listed on Schedule1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to intentionally or recklessly disturb them while nesting.
5. There are approximate 1500 pairs of little terns in the UK. Their population has declined by 9% between 1986 and 2012.
6. The RSPB is part of the Climate Coalition - formerly known as Stop Climate Chaos. The Climate Coalition is the largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change and limiting its impact on the environment and the world’s poorest communities. Our combined supporter base embraces more than 11 million people spanning over 100 organisations across the UK, from environment and development charities to unions, faith, community and women's groups.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

13th of April: Guess the legs

This week on Blakeney Point, some of our song birds have been busily making their nests. As viewers of our Facebook page will know, a Pied Wagtail has been nesting on the side of our shed:

Whilst checking on the wagtail nest, a Meadow Pipit flushed from amongst the Marram on the dune opposite. A brief search revealed a nest containing five eggs. No doubt there will be several other Meadow Pipit nests hidden in the grass, so we ask visitors to be careful where they walk and stick to the boardwalk and well-worn paths.
Meadow Pipit (M. Perrow)

After finding a Herald moth on Tuesday, we decided to run a Robinson moth trap overnight to see what other moths were about. Amongst the five species were...
 a Purple Thorn, which rests with its wings open and half-raised

... and a Shoulder Stripe.

On the wing in the daytime, have been a few male Emperor moths. In addition to the moths, Paul stumbled upon a cacoon:

Today over a hundred Swallows flew west over the Point, along with five Sand Martins. Winter raptors are still gracing the dunes; Merlin, Peregrine and Hen Harrier have all been seen in the last few days.

Our fortnightly low tide seal count recorded 779 Grey and 62 Common.

And our most recent Sandwich Tern roost count totaled around 3,000 birds.

And just for fun, it's time for "guess the legs"! These were found on the beach. Do you know what species of bird they belong to?
The answer will be revealed in our next blog post.

-Ajay, Paul and Sarah
(Blakeney Point Rangers)

Friday, 11 April 2014

Shifting Shores

Today the National Trust released a report entitled Shifting Shores
The report examines the need for the UK to have a clear adaptation strategy for the future of the UK coastline to help us live with the changes due to extreme weather & climate change.

The tidal surge on the East Coast of England on December 5th 2013  resulted in water levels higher than the 1953 tidal surge. Thankfully no lives were lost but our coastal communities have suffered significant impact.

To plan for the future, we need to consider how we can adapt to extreme weather and rising sea levels to increase our resilience.

We strongly support collaborative working, with communities living on the coast, landowners, Government agencies and local and central Government. We all need to work together to find solutions.

 Blakeney Freshmarsh after the sea walls were compromised

In Blakeney we worked closely with the Environment Agency after the surge hit to help look for ways to evacuate saltwater off the freshes and to mitigate damage to grazing land owned by us and other landowners and the wildlife that lives there.

We are now engaged with the Environment Agency in looking at possible solutions to continue to deliver functioning habitat, amenity benefits and future landuse of Blakeney freshes.

The Shifting Shores publication (link at top of page) contains a short case-study and link to a video about Blakeney Freshes. 

Victoria Egan
Countryside Manager


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

8th of April: Heralding of Spring

For many, Swallows are the heralds of spring. One of the first moths to appear is the Herald. We found one amongst a pile of wood on Blakeney Point today:
This moth will have emerged from its chrysalis in late summer or autumn of last year. Yesterday the first Swallows of the year were seen on the Point. But the true herald of spring at Blakeney is the Sandwich Tern, and tonight's roost count totaled over 1,100.

Myself and Seasonal Rangers Paul Nichols and Sarah Johnson moved onto the Point yesterday. This will be my fifth summer working at Blakeney NNR, and third on the Point, it will be Paul's eighth on the Point, and is Sarah's first. We have been busy cleaning and tidying and are pleased to announce that the visitor centre is now open for the season.

One of our tidying up tasks was retrieving a shed from the marsh. It was originally situated beside Pope's Hut, but was washed away on the 5th of December. I spotted it on Yankee Ridge a few days later and today we returned it to is original location. But for a short while there was a shed on Yankee Ridge:

Bird sightings for the first two days on the Point include Chiffchaff, Wheatears, a female Hen Harrier and a male Marsh Harrier. This morning we found the second nest of the season, another Mallard's, this one was in the garden.

- Ajay (Blakeney Point Ranger)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

2nd of April: The first nest has been found

Part of our breeding bird monitoring work on Blakeney Point involves recording nests. Our data is submitted to the British Trust for Ornithology's Nest Recording Scheme. On Monday (31st of March), we had a look to see if any Black-headed Gulls had laid yet. There were no signs of any gull nests. However, a female Mallard flushed from under a Suaeda bush. A careful look revealed a nest containing at least 21 eggs:

Mallard's lay eggs at one to two day intervals, which means that she would have laid the first egg on the 10th of March at the latest. However, the clutch size is typically around 12 eggs - this may be a case of egg dumping, where two ducks have laid their eggs in the same nest. Indeed three Mallards are present in the area: a female incubating the eggs, plus a male and another female nearby.

On the shingle ridge, an old friend is back. This colour-ringed female Ringed Plover is back on territory. She has been present on Blakeney Point for most breeding seasons since 2003. She was spotted by Richard Porter yesterday, he took this photograph last June:

As we are now in April, the seasonal dog restrictions are in place to protect ground-nesting birds, running through to the 15th of August. We ask all visitors to refer to signs, keep dogs on leads and stay out of the restricted areas. When birds are forced off their nests, their eggs can get cold or be taken by predators. We want all visitors to enjoy Blakeney Point and also want to do all we can to prevent disturbance to our vulnerable breeding birds, which include Schedule 1 protected species (it is an offence to cause disturbance to a Schedule 1 species). Please help by giving all fenced areas a wide berth.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Brancaster update

Brancaster Activity Centre 
We are delighted that we have been able to start our school visits by working in partnership with Deepdale Backpackers and Farm, and last week saw our first visits of the year which worked very well and all the children had a fantastic time. A big thank you to everyone who has worked to make this happen.

Easter Activities
This Easter we have planned some 50 things to do before you're 11¾ family activities. Wild Wednesdays will be on 9th, 16th and 23rd of April and will include activities such as bug hunting, kite flying, bird watching, a muddy harbour walk and more. All activities are free and all children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. For more information or to book please call 0844 249 1895 or see our web page.

Brancaster Beach
Following extensive re-decoration made necessary by the tidal flooding, the Brancaster beach toilets are now open, three weeks ahead of the planned date. Please respect these public toilets.
If you have any queries then please do not hesitate to contact us on 01485 210719 or email brancaster@nationaltrust.org.uk 

Monday, 24 March 2014

24th of March: Spring arrivals on Blakeney Point

Spring migrants have started to arrive on Blakeney Point. The first Chiffchaff appeared in the Plantation on the 9th of March, and the first Wheatears were seen on the 21st.

The breeding bird season is beginning. Over the past couple of weeks several hundred Black-headed Gulls have moved onto their usual breeding place on Far Point.
Black-headed Gulls on Far Point this weekend

Despite the Suadea bushes being partly buried by shingle, they are still settling in the usual location. Amongst them are over a dozen Mediterranean Gulls. They stand out from the Black-headed Gulls with their blacker heads, redder bills, white wing tips and distinctive call.
Mediterranean Gull on Blakeney Point
(seen here amongst Sandwich Terns in May 2011)
Yesterday (Sunday 23rd) saw the arrival of this year’s first Sandwich Terns, spotted by Skippy from Aylmerton Field Studies Centre whilst out on a seal trip. We are excited about watching numbers build up over the next few weeks. I was fortunate to see Sandwich Terns on their wintering grounds in West Africa last month, it was fascinating to see them in a different setting, amongst Caspian Terns, a rarity in the UK.
Caspian Tern in The Gambia

Sandwich Tern at Blakeney

Repair work on the Lifeboat House is nearly finished. The public toilets will be opening on the 31st of March (as per the National Trust handbook), however the visitor centre will not be opening until the 7th of April as renovation work to the floor is taking a little longer than predicted.
Young 'black' Grey Seal on the Point

We will keep the blog updated with migrant and breeding bird news throughout the spring. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date.

- Ajay (Coastal Ranger)