Update from the beach at Bacton
Back in the winter, the RSPB was approached by North Norfolk District Council, and their contractor, Royal HaskoningDHV, to comment on an Environmental Statement regarding the sandscaping project at Bacton. The RSPB does not question the need for this project.
Regarding covering sand martins’ nests, our recommendation was that as a last resort, a material called geotextile could be used to cover a small number of sand martin burrows at risk from the works. Geotextile is a fine mesh, almost like a sheet, that unlike netting does not allow birds to become stuck in it. This would be used to protect burrows and potentially sand martins from being smothered and suffocated from imported sand.
We agreed with Royal HaskoningDHV’s method that the area of geotextile should cover the lower portion of the cliff (in line with the height of the imported sand), at a maximum width of 50m. Additionally their method stated that this should be a bright colour, so the birds could see it, and that it should be installed in early March.
We further advised this should only be used if there were sand burrows either side of the area that the sand martins could move into. We never saw confirmation of this.
We were not contacted again by the Council, or their contractors Royal HaskoningDHV, though we note that in construction plans it said the RSPB should be contacted if plans changed. This was not upheld.
We were therefore shocked to see via social media, black netting with 20mm holes (not geotextile) that spanned the height of the cliff face and is 1.3km wide. It was put up in late March. These points were confirmed in a meeting with the Council on Monday 8th April. These facts went against our advice.
Publicly and in meetings we called on the Council to take down the netting and make space for the sand martins. The netting is legal, meaning the onus is on North Norfolk District Council to do the right thing and take it down.
In a meeting on Tuesday 9th April, the Council committed to taking the upper section of the netting down. The RSPB welcomed this move but continued to call on the Council to take all of the netting down and follow our original advice: 7 x 50m of geotextile.
On Wednesday 10th April, RSPB staff – including senior directors – visited the site to assess the situation and had further constructive conversations with North Norfolk District Council. North Norfolk District Council made a sensible decision to start removing the upper section of the netting along the central and western areas of the cliff face on Thursday 11th April.
We welcomed this move and believe it is a good first step in the right direction. From here, the Council also agreed to look at the middle section of netting and consider whether it is needed on a sectional, case-by-case basis.
However, following the face-to-face meeting, the RSPB understood the Council’s need to keep the bottom layer of burrows covered for the sandscaping project to happen in time to stop coastal erosion on the North Norfolk Coast. A huge amount of sand will be deposited on the beach, and if these burrows are left open to the sand martins to nest there is a high risk the burrows, and therefore sand martins could be suffocated, and sand martins killed. Ultimately, these nesting burrows will be covered as a result of the project.
We understand this need and recognise that these burrows must be covered and that sand martins will be able to relocate elsewhere.
On Thursday 11th April, RSPB staff once again visited the site at Bacton. Conservation staff met with the Council to look at the middle section of netting and where it was suitable for this to come down. Communications staff were on site to witness the netting start to come down.
Public have raised concerns that the netting is not coming down fast enough. The Council has told RSPB that netting will be down by Tuesday.
The RSPB continues to call on the Council to check the netting daily for trapped animals.
The RSPB advises anyone who is concerned with the Council’s work programme and timeline to contact them directly.
We thank everyone that has brought this story to light and will continue to advise the Council on this issue to achieve the best outcome for sand martins. We would like to remind our fantastic supporters that we continue to work within our parameters as a conservation charity, that holds no statutory powers, but always acts as a voice for nature.
© Sand Martin image credit to @NorfolkBea
Last Updated: Tuesday 25 June 2019