Successful breeding season for birds on Norfolk beaches

Published:
08:00 am September 3, 2022



It’s been a “summer of love” on Norfolk’s beaches, at least for the birds.

Conservationists look back on a productive season for rare breeds, including lesser terns, which enjoyed a record year in east Norfolk thanks, in part, to the efforts of bird lovers.

RSPB staff and volunteers working with Natural England and Great Yarmouth Borough Council protected a colony in Winterton National Nature Reserve around the clock, enabling 300 pairs of little terns to raise 700 chicks – the best season breeding since 1978.

Ian Robinson, RSPB Conservation Manager, said: “It’s always hard work providing round-the-clock protection for nesting lesser terns, but this year we have been rewarded.


RSPB Conservation Officer Ian Robinson.
– Credit: Archant

“The spectacular sight of a thousand adult and young lesser terns on a Norfolk beach is something to behold.”

The colony, which declined by 28% between 2000 and 2019, accounts for at least 20% of the breeding population of little terns in the UK.

And more than 150 pairs of Little Terns have nested in North Norfolk at Holkham National Nature Reserve, Blakeney Point, Scolt Head Island and Holme Dunes.

On the beaches between Snettisham and Heacham, ringed plovers and oystercatchers have been given much-needed protection through an RSPB-led ‘Plovers in Peril’ project.

Project staff and volunteers – from the RSPB and Wild Ken Hill – have seen the number of fledgling ringed plover chicks more than double on these beaches since it launched in 2021 – when just six chicks fledged out of 20 pairs.


Left to right: Steve Rowland, RSPB Area Manager, Ben Arthur, RSPB Field Officer, Wynona

Conservationists have joined forces to protect rare birds. Pictured on Snettisham beach earlier this year were, left to right, Steve Rowland, RSPB Regional Director, Ben Arthur, RSPB Field Officer, Wynona Legg, RSPB Project Officer, Andrew Jamieson, chairman of Norfolk Coast Partnership, Dominic Buscall, director at Wild Ken Hill, Victoria Egan, National Trust, Jake Fiennes, Holkham Estate and Katy Owen, Protected Landscapes, Norfolk County Council.
– Credit: Archant

Earlier this year the RSPB, National Trust, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Holkham National Nature Reserve, Wild Ken Hill and the Norfolk Coast Partnership issued a joint appeal to beachgoers to help protect the birds breeders.

These organizations have now thanked visitors and community members who volunteered their time to help protect breeding birds at their local beaches.

Andrew Jamieson, Chairman of the Norfolk Coast Partnership, said: “I am delighted to see the actions of so many residents and visitors helping our beach nesting birds have a successful breeding season.


Andrew Jamieson, Cabinet Member for Finance at Norfolk County Council.  Photo: Norfolk County Council.

Andrew Jamieson, Chairman of the Norfolk Coast Partnership.
– Credit: Norfolk County Council

“Although the majority of beach users have behaved responsibly, there are still some who do not realize that their behavior can have a negative impact.”

Little Terns, Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers are ground-nesting birds, which means their nests are vulnerable, not only to predators, but also to other beach users who may unknowingly disturb or destroy them. .

Fences and signs have been erected at important nesting sites along the Norfolk coast, reminding visitors to give ground-nesting birds plenty of room.

By taking simple steps like avoiding fenced-off areas and leashing dogs, beach users have helped birds raise their young successfully.

The presence of goalkeepers and the growing number of volunteers have also been key to the success of this season.

Wynona Legg, Project Officer for the RSPB, said: “This year’s successes show us exactly what we can achieve when we work together to keep these special places for people and wildlife.

“That’s what happens when local communities become guardians of vulnerable species that need our help.

“But we still have a long way to go to keep our coastline a haven, full of all the sights and sounds of wildlife.”

“We are still seeing a few people walking near or inside fenced areas and exercising off-leash dogs around vulnerable nests and chicks,” she added, “but with growing public support there is has hope for the future of these iconic species.

“With the challenges these birds face daily from tides, predators and extreme weather, it is crucial that we all do our part to reduce the impacts that we can control.”

In Holkham, a mix of fencing and zoning of the beach with dogs having to be kept on a leash in certain areas has meant that little terns, ringed plovers and oystercatchers have all had a better breeding season than they would have been the case otherwise.


Jake Fiennes, Director of Holkham Nature Reserve.  Photo: DENISE BRADLEY

Jake Fiennes, Director of Holkham Nature Reserve.
– Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

Jake Fiennes, Holkham’s conservation manager, said: ‘This was the second breeding season that we have zoned our beach and I think it has been a great success in helping our breeding birds, but there is still a lot to be done. do and we will seek the cooperation of the public again in 2023.”