Blog by Sophie Yeomanson, RSPB Community Shorebird Officer
In the Solent, beach nesting birds are faced with many threats, from increasing visitor pressure, to loss of suitable habitat for nesting. Every year, colonies of Little, Common and Sandwich Tern migrate to the Solent from Africa to nest on our shingle beaches, alongside Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Black-headed and Mediterranean gulls. My name is Sophie and here is some insight into the work I have been doing for the past three months as a Shorebird Officer for LIFE on the Edge in the Solent.
Monitoring the threats to breeding birds on a site is important, as this will inform management practises to mitigate against them. Much of the work we have been doing in the Solent over the past few months has involved watching nests, recording disturbances, and monitoring how the nesting birds have been reacting to these disturbance events. Discovering how the beach is used by people and other wildlife is an important first step to finding ways to protect the nesting birds.
Different species react differently to threats, for example, we have seen ringed plovers performing a broken wing act when they think their nest may be under threat from an inquisitive dog, intending to lead the perceived predator away from the young before flying off. Other species will mob the threat, an example of this being oystercatchers noisily attacking drones flying overhead, whilst leaving their nests exposed to the elements.
Practical measures can be taken to prevent this from happening, such as installing temporary fencing to cordon off areas on the beach and installing signs facing out towards the sea so that people approaching from the water know where to avoid when landing. So far in the Solent, temporary fencing has been installed across three different sites for the first time, giving refuge to multiple families of little tern, ringed plover, and oystercatcher.
Trail cameras are also extremely useful tools for helping us to monitor nests. The cameras collect snapshot footage of a fixed location over time, using motion detectors and timers. These have allowed us to monitor the nesting sites without being present 24 hours a day, so we can see what happens when we aren’t looking and plan protection measures for the future. Across the Solent beach nesting bird sites, we have been locating ringed plover and oystercatcher nests and setting up trail cameras to monitor them.
Footage from this year has revealed that egg predation (by carrion crows and hedgehogs) has been a cause of nesting failure at one site, where nesting success had not previously been monitored in depth. Because of these findings, decisions can be made about how our team can safeguard nests for the next breeding season to hopefully allow the nests to progress past the incubation stage.
Our Excellent Volunteers
Engaging with members of the public is another vital part of our work in the Solent to make space for birds to nest. Whilst practical measures to protect nests, such as temporary fenced off areas, work to protect the birds within them, birds can’t read the signs and don’t always choose to nest in the areas we create for them. That’s where community engagement comes in!
Our wonderful new team of beach nesting bird volunteers have been doing an excellent job talking to beach visitors around the Solent about the species we share our shores with, and promoting the small changes they can do that will make a big difference to the success nesting birds.
Having a daily volunteer presence on the sites has proved to be really important, and visitors have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the birds, often astonished by the images presented to them of eggs laid in shingle scrapes or of tiny camouflaged chicks on the beach.
For many of the visitors, conversations with the team are the first they’ve heard of a ringed plover or little tern, let alone seen one on the beach. Raising awareness of these “invisible” species through community engagement will be pivotal in helping these birds to thrive in the future.
Our Beach Nesting Bird volunteers at RSPB Pagham Harbour discussing the challenges shorebirds face and why it is important for visitors to give them space. Here, they have been using a model Little Tern and photos of nests to help show how vulnerable to disturbance beach nesting birds can be. Photo Credit: Sophie Yeomanson
How can you help?
We are looking to expand this team across the wider Solent area in time for the next breeding season to help safeguard other nesting sites and provide a joined-up network of safe spaces for seabirds and beach nesting waders.
Find out how to get involved here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-fundraising/volunteer/
Or you can enquire through the LIFE on the Edge website: https://www.projectlote.life/
Blog by Amy Hopley, Morecambe Bay Partnership Nature and Wildlife Officer
Amy here from Morecambe Bay Partnership, and I’m delighted to be writing this month’s guest blog on coastal volunteers. We love our volunteers – without them, much of the work we do would be impossible! And whether it’s chatting about birds or cleaning beaches; bracken bashing or planting trees, volunteering is a fun and rewarding way to get involved with your local community and help projects you care about make a real impact. Without them, charities such as Morecambe Bay Partnership and the RSPB would be unable to do most of what they do.
How will volunteers help Life on the Edge?
Life on the Edge is a project which will have a strong emphasis on volunteers. The project seeks to raise awareness of the threats faced by our wonderful shore-nesting birds. Here in Morecambe Bay, rare breeding species such as ringed plover and little tern, and much loved iconic species like the oystercatcher and the herring gull, are failing year after year to successfully raise their young.
Shore-nesting birds are exceptionally vulnerable to not only the effects of climate change and coastal erosion, but also to human disturbance. Increased leisure time, better access to the coast and the increased popularity of the stay-cation all mean that our beaches are becoming busier than ever. As our popular beaches become too crowded, visitors seek out quieter, more secluded shores to enjoy the peace. However these quieter shores are already occupied, by small and almost invisible birds that need space and peace to raise their young.
The quieter beaches are becoming busier, and the number of safe places for our coastal bird species to nest are running out. Those still attempting to nest on busy beaches see their nests accidentally destroyed, or disturbance causes them to abandon their nests, eggs or chicks. But nests are tremendously difficult to spot – even for an experienced bird watcher, let alone a visitor just having fun at the beach. So how can we protect our nesting birds when they can’t be seen?
That’s where our volunteers come in!
First, we need to find and protect these precious nests. Volunteer surveyors will visit sites regularly to identify the areas where birds are nesting on beaches. Once found, the nest will be protected by friendly engagement volunteers who chat to visitors and explain that there are birds raising their families nearby, asking people to make small changes their routes to avoid disturbing the birds. This allows visitors to ask questions about the birds, and may even give them the opportunity to spot the birds in question with the help of a knowledgeable volunteer! A friendly face has a far better impact than a sign, and a positive experience with a volunteer is a far more memorable experience for the visitor.
How can I get involved?
Right now, Life on the Edge is currently looking for volunteers to help protect the endangered birds raising their families on the few remaining UK shores where they can still nest in peace. There are a range of ways you can get involved! Here at Morecambe Bay Partnership we are currently looking for volunteers to:
With the help of a knowledgeable, passionate and friendly volunteer team, we can change the future of our vulnerable nesting birds from its current steady decline, to one of stability and growth. Not only that, but we can ensure a safe future for the birds beyond the life of the project by inspiring and educating local people to care for the special wildlife on their shore.
How do I get in touch?
You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about any of the roles above. You can also chat to us online at @BirdsoftheBay on Twitter, or by searching for Morecambe Bay Partnership on Facebook or Instagram and following our pages!
There are also opportunities on RSPB reserves in the south and east of England too! Find out how to get involved here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-fundraising/volunteer/
Or you can enquire through the LIFE on the Edge website: https://www.projectlote.life/
Photo credits: Dunlin by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)