Norfolk beaches are amazing places to walk our four-legged friends and some birds choose these beaches to raise their family. It is therefore important that we all come together to do our bit to ensure these birds are given the space to do this.
What birds are you talking about?
Ringed plovers and oystercatchers.
Ringed plover (top), Oystercatcher (bottom)
Did you know birds’ nest on the ground?
In fact, more than half of the UK’s breeding birds nest on the ground; the ringed plover and the oystercatcher are two such birds.
These two species make a shallow scrape in the sand to lay their eggs in. These eggs have evolved to blend in with the sand and shingle, making them very difficult to spot as you walk along the beach. This means they can easily be trampled.
Did you know that once they hatch the chicks will run all over the beach?
Ringed plover and oystercatcher chicks are what we call precocial. This means that as soon as the chicks hatch, they leave the nest and go in search of their own food and so they will often run all across the beach.
When they feel under threat for example from predators, people and dogs they will flatten themselves on the sand to try and blend it. However this makes them prone to being squashed by us.
These birds have always been here, so what is the problem?
In 1984, 519 pairs of ringed plovers were recorded breeding in Norfolk, in 2018 there were just 113 pairs. That is a 79% decline in only 35 years.
The Snettisham area is one of the most important areas in Norfolk with 15% of the Norfolk population.
Oystercatchers are also suffering a similar decline.
Although the birds have always been here, they are disappearing in front of our eyes. If we don’t all help, then these delightful birds could be lost from Norfolk forever.
Why are they declining?
The reasons for their decline are complex
Why can't they just go somewhere else?
If you look around you will notice that different birds can be found in different parts of the countryside as they have evolved and adapted to find their own niche.
Ringed plovers have adapted to nest on sandy- shingle beaches. They choose to nest at the top of the beaches where the tides cannot wash their nest away. They will run around the beach and out onto the mud to feed on insects and small invertebrates. If they can't access beaches such as those found at Snettisham then they lose their home and can no longer raise their family which will lead to them becoming extinct.
As sea level rises and the habitat on beaches changes conservation organisations are working hard to try and create new areas of habitat for ringed plovers to move to but this is not easy when a bird only knows to nest on the beach at Snettisham, for example.
What is the RSPB doing?
You will see rope and post cordons along the beach which prevent nests from being trampled and provide a safe space for these birds to use.
When you are visiting this summer please keep your distance as there will be a parent bird sitting on their eggs who will quickly leave as you approach. They perceive us humans as a threat.
When you visit you will see signs letting you know where to walk, fly a kite or let your dog off the lead, for example, without causing disturbance.
The signage will be removed at the end of August when they are no longer needed.
Look out for our team of friendly beach rangers who will be out and about this summer on Snettisham beach protecting these birds from disturbance.
What authority does the RSPB have?
The RSPB is working in partnership with the Ken Hill Estate, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council and Snettisham Sailing Club to safeguard the ringed plovers and oystercatchers whilst still allowing visitors to enjoy the beach.
What is the law?
All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is thus an offence to:
How can I help?
With your help we can ensure these beach nesting birds rear their next generation. These birds need space to breed undisturbed so a few simple changes to our behaviour could make all the difference:
Why are you targeting dog walkers specifically?
The RSPB and Ken Hill Estate welcomes dogs, but, from 1st April – 31st August we are asking you to keep your dogs on a lead when visiting Snettisham Beach.
Extensive research has proven that dogs off leads disturb ground nesting birds such as ringed plovers 100% of the time.
Research has also demonstrated that an off lead dog can cover 10 times more ground than a dog on a lead.
Dogs often chase and can even kill these birds. Once such incident was recorded at RSPB Titchwell in 2020 where a dog chased a ringed plover chick that was only just learning to fly and killed it.
When birds are disturbed frequently their stress levels rise, which can lead to them abandoning their eggs.
Leaving their eggs unattended can cause the embryo to die due to changing temperatures and eggs are more likely to be predated by other species.
By keeping dogs on leads the chance of nesting success doubles.
Where can I walk my dog off a lead?
Between 1st April and 31st August, you can walk your dog off a lead at Heacham North Beach and at Old Hunstanton.
Where can I walk my dog on a lead?
Between 1st April and 31st August, you can still walk your dog on a lead from Heacham South beach to the Snettisham Beach Car Park and from here south, until you reach the concrete sea defences in front of the chalets.
If you have any further enquiries please drop us an email: email@example.com
We thank you for your support in helping these charismatic birds raise their families free from harm.
Make that a short, fixed lead.
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© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
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