People are often surprised to learn that ringed plover and oystercatcher nest on the beach and not in the vegetation of the dunes and scrub behind. At times like these we are incredibly grateful that they do as the nests for these birds were just out of reach of the flames from Tuesdays fires that tore through the coastal park at Wild Ken Hill – unlike some of the other wildlife that sadly we will have lost.
Our field officer Ben watched from a distance on Tuesday as the flames spread across the scrub, reedbed and dunes adjacent to the beach in the soaring heat. We knew that we would have damage to fencing and signage but that can be replaced. Amongst obvious concerns we worried for the birds that had nests high up on the upper beach just meters away from the dunes where the fire raged.
Walking on site at this time of year is usually a hive of activity with skipping hares, songbirds and abundant insects visiting fragrant sea holly flowers and digging homes into soft sand. It was a stark sight to see such a vast swathe of this lush habitat scorched black yesterday morning. Kestrels picking sad morsels from hot ash and turtle doves flying over lost territory.
We are grateful to share that the nesting ringed plover and oystercatcher and their young chicks have managed to escape the blaze relatively unscathed. We were overcome with relief to see that a nest just meters away from a large area of dune that had been up in flames was being incubated by the adult the morning after– with all the eggs untouched. Its too soon to say whether these eggs will hatch considering the temperatures they must have endured but we maintain hope that we will have some miracle chicks on this beach very soon.
Though most of the eggs and chicks are safe, we haven’t been without casualties, some of the eggs were hatching at the time of the fire and sadly, one small chick didn’t make it. The chick was found in the nest and thought to have perished whilst hatching in record breaking 40degree heat with a sky filled with black smoke. We were thankful to see that at least one of its siblings from the same nest survived – a testament to their resilience - and is now on the beach with both parents in much more tolerable temperatures.
Image credit Phill Gwilliam
We have suffered a lot of damage to much of our fenced areas and signage and ask that visitors walking through from the coastal park remain respectful of the fencing.
image credit Phill Gwilliam
Image credit: Wynona Legg
We have made emergency repairs to those areas where we know we have small chicks and nests with eggs but there are many birds which will be relaying following earlier losses so please be mindful that new nests could still pop up anywhere on the upper shore.
Sadly, we simply don’t have the funds or resources to repair all fences for the remaining season (finishing end of August) so our staff and volunteers will be monitoring the nesting site closely and making adjustments where we need to, to protect nests and vulnerable chicks. It would be a huge help to the birds in the aftermath of this fire if visitors could continue to keep their distance from fenced areas to reduce further disturbance to these nesting birds whilst they tend their final clutches and please don’t enter areas that are fenced even if they appear damaged or incomplete.
As always, our volunteers will be out on site every day so if you are unsure do ask them. They are always happy to share information, point out chicks and update you on site news.
Our hearts go out to all those who lost their homes & livelihoods in the fires across Norfolk and our thoughts are with our partners at Wild Ken Hill who will have had an incredibly challenging few days working hard alongside emergency services to control the fire here and undertaking the devastating task of assessing the extent of the losses to wildlife and habitat here. Nature is resilient and will regenerate quickly but there are many species affected that will take a long time to bounce back and with global temperatures continuing to rise, fires like these will become commonplace. For species like Turtle dove which rely on dense scrub habitat to breed successfully – that could be devastating.
Please be mindful that in the aftermath of the fire, much of the wildlife in the coastal park will be vulnerable without cover, by keeping dogs on leads and keeping to paths where possible, we can help the wildlife to recover peacefully
Please be responsible when out enjoying these special places - Discarded food can attract predators like gulls and foxes to the nesting site whilst litter such as cans, glass bottles and foil wrapping can ignite flames easily in high temperatures when the ground is hot and dry.
To end on a hopeful note. We are pleased to share news that despite another challenging year, we are seeing our first chicks fledge from this site. It’s been a slow and challenging season but so far three ringed plover chicks (and counting) are gracing the skies above the beach and wash on the Plovers in Peril site, strengthening their wings with tentative flights for bigger journeys ahead. Let’s hope for a smooth ride for them and fingers crossed for many more as our young chicks hold their own on these busy beaches.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the communities of Snettisham and Heacham and all those who visit these beaches for helping us to keep these birds safe as they raise their families here by giving them space to thrive. Seeing these chicks making their first flights is always an emotional moment and a symbol of joy and hope that with the care of the community, these birds have a shot at surviving here long into the future.
You can help get the rest of these fluffy chicks airborne by:
The Plovers in Peril team x
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