RSPB’s Plovers in Peril project started officially in March this year, made possible by funding granted from Kings Lynn and West Norfolk borough council. With it being such a new project, we were at the beginning a little unsure of what the take up would be like when looking to recruit volunteers to support us in our work. We needn’t have worried, we’ve had an incredible response from people within the local community eager to give up their time to help Plovers in Peril and now half-way through the projects first season, it is evident this team of extraordinary volunteers are the backbone of this project.

If you are interested in volunteering with us, please see details at the bottom of this blog post. Read on to find out more.

Our team of twelve volunteers were raring to go by April, eager to get their bearings with the site and keen to absorb as much plover related literature as humanly possible in readiness for the season ahead. Now in June (did I blink for too long!?) we are starting to see Snettisham and South Heacham beaches filling up with people as the summer finally reaches our shores. For the birds, summer crowds appear at the peak of their nesting season and so amongst all those kite flyers, picnic pioneers, sand castle creators, sea swimmers, dune sunbathers and mud larkers, beach nesting birds are quietly persevering away, trying their best to keep their eggs and young safe from the burning sun and all those wandering feet.

Plovers in Peril volunteers, Anne and Phil, with new project signage at South Heacham Beach (image credit Wynona Legg)

As bank holiday loomed and crowds began to build, I shared a post with the volunteer group, tentatively asking for extra support. Knowing they were already giving it their all, I was moved to tears at the response I received as my phone lit up with offers of extra time, double shifts, evening cover and everything in between. The dedication and passion these people have to protect these birds is so inspiring that most days they hold me up as opposed to the other way around!

In true Ringed Plover custom, they decided that bank holiday Monday during half term break (which also happened to be one of the hottest weeks we had seen so far this year) was the perfect day to hatch out their first chicks. With visitors flocking to soak up the sun, the beach was the bustling and we watched on nervously as these chicks made their first forays around the tideline. With chicks hatching and new nests popping up on the beach daily it has been all hands on-deck to get the nests cordoned and these birds and their precious eggs protected.

Volunteers Tori and Tina using a GPS logger to record a nest

I dare not imagine what weeks like this would look like without the support of our volunteers.

With all that the nesting season throws at the breeding pairs of ringed plover on these beaches, the journey for us is not always an easy one either. This group of volunteers have been here to watch the birds as they find a mate, choose and defend a territory, build a scrape, lay their eggs and guide their chicks into the world (and then all over again if the eggs don’t make it and they need a second try). We watch the stories of these birds unfolding from one week to the next and it’s not easy when we see the negative impact us humans can have on these vulnerable ground nesting birds. Off-lead dogs running loose inside nesting areas and people walking too close to fenced-off areas are sadly things we still see daily and both are enough to cause severe disturbance or even complete nest failure. On busy days, we have even seen (though thankfully less often) the rope on these protective cordons being used as drying lines for wet swimming towels.

It takes a fair bit of emotional resilience to remain positive on days like those, but this incredible team of people take it all in their stride. They show up each day to be a voice for these birds and to share their stories of struggle. They give up hours of their time to ensure, where they can, that these birds get the protection they need to raise their families successfully, they stay late to help find, protect and fence off vulnerable nests even after their shift has long since finished and they brave all manner of weather from hail to burning sun to raise awareness of the plight of these birds and to spread some plover love to all those who visit this beach!

If we want to ensure these birds survive to continue raising their little families here, it is vital that we do all we can to limit human disturbance and minimise damage to their fragile eggs. I am so grateful to be working alongside such an inspiring and dedicated team of individuals and I have no doubt that the ringed plover are grateful too for all they do to protect them.

 

I leave you with some words from the volunteers, sharing their experiences of volunteering on the Plovers in Peril project so far:

I volunteered to help the Plovers in Peril group as I love my local beaches and their varied wildlife. To see a Ringed Plover sitting quietly and patiently on a nest is a wonderful moment. These small birds need our help as numbers have been falling year on year.  By representing the RSPB on the Snettisham and South Heacham beaches we are there to talk to the public about the birds which nest on the beaches here, asking for their support by keeping their dogs on leads and keeping their distance from nesting areas. As a group we report our experiences and are all sharing the highs (and lows) daily of a breeding season with Ringed Plovers.  I feel proud to be helping.” – Wendy

 “Volunteering on the plovers in peril project has not only introduced me to a bird I knew nothing about but also has introduced me to a lovely group of people who are happy to share their knowledge. I already loved my beach walks, but this has opened my eyes and made my walks so much more rewarding. Volunteering with RSPB on the plovers in peril project has given me great insight to the urgent need for conservation projects to preserve wildlife for future generations.” – Nuala 

We watched from the shoreline - surely if there was a nest the female would return quickly, and lo and behold she was there within a minute. We inched slowly towards where she was sitting, watching where we put our feet and keeping a keen eye on her location.........there it was with three eggs inside. Momentarily we stopped, glanced at each other and then back to the nest. Two grown men so thrilled by finding a small bird's nest. If this was how we felt at finding the nest, how will we cope when the eggs hatch!?” - Paul on finding a nest 

Finding my first nest felt like an absolute privilege and I couldn’t really contain my excitement, I felt like a proud parent! I wanted to volunteer with RSPB on the plovers in peril project because these birds really need our help, they are really battling against all the odds! Our presence on the beach is vital to raise awareness of these birds. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get after finishing a shift knowing you have made even the smallest impact on these amazing birds and their survival. Without engaging with visitors about the issues ground nesting birds face at this popular beach, I feel that these birds will simply not survive.” -Tori 

Tina (left) and Tori (right) demonstrating what a ringed plover nest looks like with dummy eggs. (Image credit: Wynona Legg)

A huge thank you to all our volunteers for all you do for wildlife and for keeping us all sane along the way!

Wynona

Are you Interested in volunteering for Plovers in Peril as a Beach Ranger this season (1st April-31st August) and live locally to Snettisham or Heacham? 

As we move toward the busiest time of the year and with summer holidays and ‘staycations’ just around the corner, we are on the lookout for beach ranger volunteers to engage with beach users and support us in protecting vulnerable beach nesting birds on Snettisham and South Heacham beach as part of the Plovers in Peril project. If you can spare an hour or three any day of the week (or even a shift after work early evening) please register your interest by emailing titchwell@rspb.org.uk to find out more. We would really love to hear from you!

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