You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
Blogger: Steve Rowland, Public Affairs Manager for RSPB Eastern England
It’s now six days since the biggest surge tide to hit the East coast in 60 years. I’ve lived by the sea in North West Norfolk for 16 years, and every autumn / winter when there are spring tides I've looked at the weather forecast for those classic indicators of a storm surge; low pressure, a North West wind and big tides. There have been times over the years when we've had big tides which in places have broken through sea defences and caused some localised damage. But last Thursday night was different, different in that this was the biggy we all knew would come one day and different because unlike the 1953 surge tide nobody died. Since that fateful night 60 years ago, sea defences have been improved, our ability to predict surge tides has got better and our ability to communicate the need to take action with coastal communities is immeasurably more effective.
I consider myself fortunate that my job at times gives me a very personal connection with projects helping to shape small parts of the East coast. For example, over a decade ago I worked on the managed realignment at Freiston Shore on the Lincolnshire banks of the Wash near Boston. Here, the RSPB team worked with the Environment Agency, local authorities and land owners to set back the coast to an older line of sea banks. In front of these we have helped a new saltmarsh to take root, a natural and ever so durable soft sea defence that last Thursday night did its job and held the line against the tide. But it is worth remembering that on every tide this saltmarsh does a job as a flood defence, wildlife habitat, fish spawning ground and place for folk to go to for recreation.
Boardwalk at RSPB Titchwell Marsh
I also played a small role in the Titchwell Marsh Coastal Change project. This was both a visionary approach to how we manage the coast in front of an iconic nature reserve and also a very pragmatic solution. With the help of partners and funders we strengthened the sea defences so securing the medium term future of the reserve and were able as part of the project to provide new and improved visitor facilities. I walked the West Bank path at Titchwell the morning after the surge and, whilst the sea had caused some impressive damage to the beach boardwalk and sand dunes, the main sea defences had held and the new Parrinder Hide stood unscathed.
The East coast is a dynamic place; its estuaries add an energy and a wilfulness to the landscape. Ally this with the slow post ice age sinking of Brittannia's rump and the impact of climate change, with increased storminess and rising sea levels, and it seems obvious to me that we need to plan ahead. We need to think about how we manage this coastline, and where we can use cost effective soft natural sea defences. We need to ensure that these new sea defences are in place and able to do their job on nights like last Thursday and on 365 days a year provide a beautiful landscape for people to enjoy and a home for nature.
One such place where we are doing just this is at Wallsasea Island, a flat expanse of former marshland that is now arable, sandwiched between the Crouch and Roach estuaries in Essex. Here, the Environment Agency had identified a stretch of coast with unsustainable sea defences that would one day have to be returned to the sea. The RSPB project team, in which I have been lucky to play a small part, have worked with the landowner and a range of partners including the Environment Agency and Crossrail on a truly inspirational coastal habitat creation project to realign Wallasea Island. The result is the creation of hundreds of hectares of wildlife habitats and a long term sustainable sea defence.
There’s a lot to worry and think about at the moment. One concern that is nagging at me is that we take a pour concrete solution, putting hard concrete walls around our coast, as an attempt to set in a moment of time the line of a coast when the elements in which it sits, the rising sea on one side and sinking land on the other are inexorably shifting. This kind of solution would force water further down the narrowing funnel of the North Sea until eventually the displaced water finds a weak spot to flood. In the meantime we lose yet more precious intertidal habitat upon which coastal wildlife and people depend. This isn't to say that there will not be places where hard sea defences will be appropriate, but we need to consider where we should be visionary and put soft but effective natural sea defences in place.
Wildlife hide at RSPB Snettisham
I'd like to finish back on my home patch in North West Norfolk. On Friday, I spent the day with colleagues inspecting the impact of the storm at Titchwell and Snettisham. Then on Saturday I drove the coast road between Burnham Overy Staithe and Brancaster Staithe. Over these two days I saw for myself the sheer scale and power of the of the surge tide. Homes and businesses had been flooded out, the fresh marshes behind the seawall had flooded and the sea and these new inland saltwater lakes joined together. At Snettisham, a personal favourite place of mine, the landscape had changed and I struggled to get my bearings at times. I feel that it is important as we start to plan the future of the coast that wherever it is practical, we reinstate these fresh marshes and where it is not we as a nation look to replace them else where, as has been done by the Environment Agency for many reedbeds already.
So much destruction and yet so much determination and resolve to rebuild and put in place robust coastal defences working with nature to rebuff the worst of nature. I have spoken with colleagues about the sheer scale of the reconstruction needed at Snettisham and also of the opportunity that we have to rebuild this amazing nature reserve to be an even better place for people and wildlife in the future. I must admit to conflicting emotions, at times I have found being witness to the sheer power and dynamism of this event energising and at other times the scale of the destruction and cost of rebuilding has felt quite overpowering.
Along with colleagues over the coming weeks and months I'll be working on our response to the damage caused by the surge tide. You too can help us in this mammoth task, we're setting up an emergency fund that we can use to get our nature reserves back into shape and repair the damage caused by the worst storm in 60 years. A donation from you, whatever you can afford, will go a long way to help us restore these precious homes for nature. Thank you.
Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer
I’ve written before about the constant battle I have with ‘mess’ in my house. I am forever shoving things in to cupboards or hoovering gerbil bedding from behind the table. Some tell me it comes with the territory of sharing a house with a five-year old but I’ve come to realise I can’t lay the blame entirely at that particular dinosaur-stickered door – I am just as bad. For instance, open any drawer in my house and you are bound to discover not just one, but perhaps two or three or even more, moulted bird’s feathers that I have collected on various outings and walks. Upstairs in the desk drawers there are the peregrine feathers – dark, sleek and honed for flight. On top of the microwave a magpie feather can be found and in an old cocoa pot on the bookcase is a whole jumble of feathers. Dappled tawny owl feathers, the loose white plume of a swan’s feather and the brilliant blue stripes of a stubby jay’s feather cling to one another in an untidy bunch.
Am I a collector of stray feathers I wonder? I hadn’t thought of it that way until now but I suppose that I am. In fact, thinking about it, people even make a point of bringing feathers of interest to me so I suppose that must mean something; I was the glad beneficiary of a stook of beautiful peacock feathers the other day, collected as the birds moulted them out. It seems that I am very happy to collect what has been discarded by a bird as old and useless!
Unfortunately however in the 1900’s feathers sold to decorate hats were big business and people didn’t just collect rejected feathers. During the so-called ’plume boom’ London was the international centre for the plumage trade where traders and feather merchants were able to bid for the ‘skins’ plumes and quills of the most beautiful birds in the world, killed for fashion.
Thank goodness then for the RSPB. The society was in fact formed to counter the barbarous trade in plumes for women's hats, a fashion responsible for the destruction of many thousands of egrets, birds of paradise and other species whose plumes had become fashionable in the late Victorian era. In its earliest days the Society consisted entirely of women who were moved by the emotional appeal of the plight of young birds left to starve in the nest after their parents had been shot for their plumes. The rules of the Society were simple. Firstly that ‘members should discourage the wanton destruction of birds and interest themselves generally in their protection.’ Furthermore that ‘Lady-Members should refrain from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for purposes of food.’ Happily the ‘murderous milinery’ campaign initiated wildlife protection acts which eventually prohibited both national and international commerce in protected bird species.
The rest, as they say, is history for the RSPB has worked to achieve many successes since then, not only for birds but for all nature. The societies latest campaign is to ‘provide a million homes for nature.’
There is plenty you can do to help out too – click on homes.rspb.org.uk to find out more.
Blogger: Matt Parrot, RSPB Membership Development Officer
I am really enjoying our new campaign, Giving Nature a Home. It provides me with a brilliant way to talk to people about how they can help nature without going any further than their own back gardens.
My job is to influence people to support the RSPB and rather than speaking about our reserves or species conservation, I now spend a lot of time talking about how people can do little things every day to help save nature.
And I like to practice what I preach, so I’ve also had a go myself!
I’m not a warden or campaign officer, I don’t have qualifications in ecology and I have a very basic level of gardening knowledge. But I do have a small garden at my home in Norwich, and I’ve made it into a model of Giving Nature a Home.
I have the regular birdfeeders and bird boxes, but from reading the RSPB’s youth magazine, WildTimes, and Birdlife magazine it inspired me to have a go at making a little pond for frogs from a washing up bowl placed in one of the flower beds.
I didn’t expect much from it, but I was surprised one night to find a frog on the back step, so I took it to the pond, dropped it in and another frog leapt out!
What I really wanted was a hedgehog to visit, so I read the hedgehog section in the RSPB Garden Wildlife book we give to new members. I found a bush I thought would give them shelter and used a storage box for a house, putting a little bit of straw inside.
It’s taken a month but the other night I went out to find a big hedgehog eating a worm on the back grass, and when I lifted the box I found it had made a little nest of leaves inside. I hadn’t seen a live hedgehog for a long time, it’s amazing to find one living in the garden, and it’s really important to help them out with a home now that there are so few left.
I recently told this story to a family at our membership stand at Centre Parcs. They first came over to me because they saw the Hedgehog roller banner. They’d seen the advert and the twin boy and girl really wanted to see a hedgehog in their garden. I told them what I had done to attract one, showed them the books and magazines and they became members. They took a bug home away as a gift, and I recently had an email from them to say they’d been enthused to get busy building an enormous woodpile for wildlife.
It’s always great to recruit new members, but it’s even better to know that you’ve inspired someone to make the most of their membership and take part our ‘Giving Nature a Home’ campaign.
If you’d like to have at go at Giving Nature a Home in your back garden or community, find out what you can do here.