The next couple of weeks are really important for Dungeness. We are all on tenterhooks waiting to see if the purple herons nesting (one of them pictured, courtesy David Featherbe) at the reserve will be successful. In most years that would be the biggest thing on our minds – but the next couple of weeks will also see the critical decision taken on whether the applications to extend Lydd airport will be called in for proper examination at a public inquiry.
Time is getting short – so if you haven’t added your voice to this call (so far over 14,000 have) then please do. You can find the details here.
With the scrapping of new runways at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick, the new coalition Government is show commendable commitment to tackling the run away expansion of air travel and its consequences for the quality of life of communities affected, our climate and, of course, the natural world.
We believe the airport expansion is the wrong choice for Dungeness and there is a strong case for call in.
Every spring a few purple herons turn up in the UK. These gorgeous birds are summer migrants, returning to wetlands in Europe to nest. The birds that arrive in the UK are the ones that have been a bit too enthusiastic and overshot their usual destinations. Their spring arrivals could also be seen as a way of a few individuals pushing the boundaries of the bird’s usual distribution, looking for opportunities to establish new breeding areas. Purple heron have long been on the list of birds that are known as ‘potential colonists’. This is a list that has been of greater interest recently as the changing climate has been pushing breeding populations northwards.
When two purple herons turned up at Dungeness a few weeks ago it could easily have been just another overshoot – a line in the reserve log a chance for some lucky bird-watchers to see these jazzy herons – and here’s a picture of one of the actual birds (courtesy David Featherbe).
For over 100 years the RSPB has been protecting nesting birds at Dungeness – in the early years we employed seasonal watchers to protect nesting seabirds from the ravages of egg collectors and disturbance. While many things have changed over the decades it is still necessary to protect rare birds from those who wish them harm – so we have team of modern watchers deployed with the latest gizmos to keep a close eye on the birds. It may not be as bad as the days when Edwardian collector-naturalists were out and about, but, unbelievably in the early years of the 21st century, it’s still a risk we need to take into account. (Here’s a picture of watchers at Dungeness from the 1920s).
But regular readers of this blog will not need reminding that there is a bigger issue afoot at Dungeness. Proposed expansion of Lydd airport threatens to add significantly to the pressures on this special site. As our team patiently watch over the purple herons we await a decision from our new Government on whether the proposals to expand the airport will be called in for examination at a public inquiry.
The local authority, Shepway District Council, have approved the plans of the airport despite their own planning officers advising that it should have been refused. So far, around 14,000 people have been moved to contact the Government Office of the South East requesting that this application is called in. If you are one of those people, can I offer you my heart-felt thanks? But we are not there yet, the crucial decision is awaited any day and there’s still time to help – you can find out more here.
This old rhyme seems oddly appropriate:
The fault is great in man or womanWho steals a goose from off a common;But what can plead that man's excuseWho steals a common from a goose?
Though changing goose to heron doesn’t quite work!
At the moment there’s not much to see – and while Dungeness is full of spring wildlife at the moment, visitors will be extremely unlikely to see the purple herons. We’ll keep you posted as the season progresses.
Strumpshaw Fen RSPB reserve is a magical place in spring. My colleague, Ian Robinson, who is our Area Officer for the Broads – just sent through this description of a walk around the reserve – enjoy!
Picture this morning’s scene:5.15am, dead calm, mist hanging over Strumpshaw Broad, sun just coming over the trees, sedge and reed warblers singing away, cuckoos calling, bittern booming; fantastic moody sky – a landscape painter or photographer’s dream, female otter blowing bubbles underwater popping up 50m away crunching on small fish.
Just past the boardwalk a fledged song thrush chick looking absurd with downy-ear tufts – conjured up an image of Tommy Copper wearing his fez.
Blackcap and garden warbler trying to confuse the birdwatcher singing every 50m along the riverbank.
Lapwing with frosted feathers sitting tight on her nest on the island in front of Tower hide, Cetti’s warbler blasting out its song in the undergrowth.
Further on a snuffling sound only a metre away – a surprised otter cub chomping on the remains of a bream it had caught is spooked and does an Olympics-style run and dive into the river.
Cuckoos still calling, common terns drift past, swifts scythe overhead.
Nearly back to civilisation I stop to see if the water vole I’d seen yesterday evening was there – it was asleep on the edge of the trail, totally oblivious, I said hello, it didn’t wake up – so close I could have tickled it.
What’s next – hopefully lapwing and redshank chicks in abundance at Buckenham, swallowtails, Norfolk Hawker, scarce chaser, marsh helleborine, water soldier, marsh pea, milk parsley ... sounds like a Date with Nature to me.
Strumpshaw Fen is just one of the fabulous RSPB reserves you can visit this weekend – have look here and then go and fill your senses.
And here's a picture of a water vole - this one isn't asleep!
The Danube meets the Black Sea in one of the world’s largest deltas (over half a million hectares) and is home to thousands of wetland birds, including Dalmatian pelicans and pygmy cormorants and each year is a vital staging post for tens of thousands of migrating birds of prey, and storks on their way too and from Africa.
Back in November, I told you about the lack of protection that the Romanian government is giving to the Danube Delta. Well there’s some positive news, following a complaint by SOR, our BirdLife partner in Romania, the European Commission have just sent a first legal warning letter to the Romanian government over an ill-planned tourism development on the Black Sea coast within the delta. This project to build roads and services next to the beach will destroy specially protected coastal habitats – including ones so rare in Europe that under EU rules, they shouldn’t be damaged for reasons other than human health and safety.
Dan Pullen works here for the RSPB providing direct support for some of the most high-profile cases in Europe where incomparable places for wildlife are at risk from threats such as development pressure. He’s clear this is a significant breakthrough: ‘It’s not that SOR are against tourism to the area – quite the opposite, but it should be based on the natural environment of this special place, it should help people appreciate the delta’s wonderful diversity of life and landscape rather than trashing the place beneath ill-judged tourist developments’.
It’s not just the building of hotels and all that’s associated with tourist development, but the sheer numbers of tourists will risk disturbing and further degrading the precious dune and steppe habitats that add further richness to the area’s wildlife.
The hope is that with the European Commission weighing in on nature’s side, the Romanian government will stop this poorly thought-out development and consider how to provide sustainable tourism facilities instead.
At this time of such dreadful news from Greece it’s great to be able to bring you some good news. Our friends at the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS - the BirdLife International partner in Greece) are delighted that Greek Ministry of the Environment has designated 66 new Special Protection Areas (SPAs) adding significantly to the Natura 2000 network of the best wildlife sites across Europe. Lake Karla is one of the sites and is pictured (credit HOS, R Trigou).
Forty one of the sites are completely new and overall this delivers a significant increase in the area of land in Greece designated as SPAs – in fact an impressive 1.3m ha (which is over half the size of Wales!).
HOS has been working long and hard to build up the scientific case for these designations through BirdLife International’s Important Bird Area programme. In Europe, Important Bird Areas are used as the scientific reference for the official designations of SPAs.
Tasos Dimalexis, Conservation Director of HOS is clear that designation is only part of the answer: ‘This is a great development for the conservation of our Important Bird Areas. However, there is still a lot to be done by the Greek government in order to achieve a comprehensive SPA network’.
The European Court of Justice has ruled that there current conservation measures are inadequate to protect the Greek SPA network. In welcoming the news of a significant expansion of the network, Tasos is clear about the challenge ahead: ‘This important step forwards will not yield positive results for birds and biodiversity unless it is followed by the implementation of adequate conservation measures for the key species of our SPAs’
Ensuring nature has a voice is never easy – our thoughts and best wishes are with our colleagues in Greece as they seek to secure the future of their country’s natural environment in these troubled times.