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Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

Reckless beach drivers put vulnerable Norfolk birds in peril

Heart-breaking footage has today been released by the RSPB which shows quad bikers driving recklessly on Snettisham Beach, one of Norfolk’s strongholds for vulnerable breeding birds including ringed plovers. Must watch: see the footage of the reckless drivers here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/e83swvb06s3uiuo/Quads.MOV?dl=0 The clip, filmed by the RSPB, shows five quadbikes driving at speed across both Snettisham […]

Heart-breaking footage has today been released by the RSPB which shows quad bikers driving recklessly on Snettisham Beach, one of Norfolk’s strongholds for vulnerable breeding birds including ringed plovers.

Must watch: see the footage of the reckless drivers here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/e83swvb06s3uiuo/Quads.MOV?dl=0

The clip, filmed by the RSPB, shows five quadbikes driving at speed across both Snettisham Beach and the RSPB’s Snettisham nature reserve, over several miles of vital nesting habitat for the fast-declining species as well as other birds such as oystercatchers.

The events come at the start of the breeding season after the birds have spent months displaying courtship rituals, pair bonding and in the lead up to egg-laying. Ringed plovers create scrapes, shallow holes in the sand/shingle to lay their eggs, some of which were flattened by the tyres of these quad bikes.

Working with Norfolk Police, the charity is urging visitors to be mindful of wildlife in the countryside, with over half of England’s most threatened breeding bird species nesting on or near to the ground.

Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

The ringed plover is one of these birds, with its severe decline in part a result of increased visitor pressure on beaches where they nest close to the ground and remain well camouflaged. South Heacham beach, having been designated for their internationally significant wildlife and are a key habitat for these birds. Therefore, disturbance such as this can have a substantial impact, particularly as the Norfolk ringed plover breeding population has declined by 79 per cent in the last 35 years.

To help aid the fortunes of ringed plovers, who are suffering from global decline, “Plovers in Peril”, a partnership project funded by has been working to educate beach users on the fragility of the species, while also monitoring the bird’s behaviours and habitats.

Talking about the project, Wynona Legg, Ringed Plover Project Officer, said: “As a team we watch the birds at every step of their journey whilst working hard to give them the space and protection they

“The RSPB is working collaboratively with Ken Hill Estate and Norfolk Coast AONB to raise awareness of beach nesting birds on the site, and we hope to demonstrate that by watching your step and giving breeding birds space, together we can ensure their presence here is safeguarded long into the future.”

This recent behaviour from quad-bikers, as witnessed by the project team and of the public, comes as a heart-breaking blow to the project. While thankfully, no eggs had been observed by RSPB staff and volunteers at the time of the incident, had active nests with birds incubating eggs been destroyed, the damage to the birds’ breeding efforts could have been much more severe, and the offences punishable by law.

Speaking about Norfolk Police’s efforts to tackle wildlife crime on Norfolk’s beaches, PC Chris Shelley said: “We work closely with conservation charities, local councils and other key partners right along Norfolk’s coastline to identify areas of concern, such as marine life disturbance, to try to protect and preserve our rich wildlife habitats.

“This summer we’re also proud to be part of the national initiative Operation Seabird. Our focus is on protecting our vulnerable ground nesting sea birds, like little terns and ringed plover, ensuring the seals on our beaches are not disturbed, and educating and encouraging visitors to be responsible and always consider how their actions may affect our wildlife and, when necessary, take action against those who wilfully and intentionally destruct our wildlife and their habitats.”

Working with the RSPB, Norfolk Police are encouraging members of the public to report any incidences of suspected damage or disturbance to wildlife, eggs or nests at these sites in addition to matters of public safety.

All wild birds and their nests are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. For some beach-nesting species, including little terns, this legal protection is even stronger as population numbers are so low. It is vital that anyone witnessing disturbance to breeding birds or their nests reports this to the police as soon as possible, either on 999 if the event is occurring, or on 101 if the event has passed.

Notes:

  1. The quadbikes in this incident were seen driving across wildlife rich coastal land owned by Ken Hill Estate, an internationally important coastal habitat forming part of The Wash SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), RSPB Snettisham Reserve and through narrow permissive public footpaths not designed for vehicle use. The warm weather had brought many visitors to the beach that day and the reckless driving of unauthorised vehicles on this highly populated beach is a danger to visiting public including those with small children and dogs and those using narrow public rights of way. Just the week after these events unfolded, active nests were observed and can now be found across the beach – if these has been destroyed while active, the damage to the birds’ breeding efforts could have been much more severe, and the offences punishable by law.
  2. The Norfolk ringed plover breeding population has declined by 79 per cent in 35 years, with just 123 pairs recorded in 2018.
  3. Ringed plovers nest in shallow scrapes in the sand or shingle and are easily disturbed. Their eggs and chicks are also very camouflaged, making them vulnerable to being trampled. To give them the best chance of breeding success, visitors are asked to pay attention to signs signalling beach nesting birds are present, keep away from the cordons on the beach, walk low on the beach along the water’s edge or on the coastal path where possible, watch where they step, keep dogs under control and not leave or bury rubbish or food scraps, which can attract predators such as rats. The RSPB, as part of the Plovers in Peril project, also have staff and volunteers out on the beaches talking to visitors about these special birds and keeping an eye on their nests.
  4. For more information about the Plovers in Peril project, see here

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