At our latest indoor talk, Coastal Ranger Chris Lickley introduced the work of Bird Aware Solent in attempting to mitigate the impact of recreational activities – walking, cycling, dog-walking, watersports etc – on the over-wintering birds of the Solent Special Protection Areas.
We would encourage all members and supporters of Southampton Natural History Society to take a look at the new Bird Aware web-site for detailed information. But we thought, as a taster, we’d set out the causes for concern as defined by Bird Aware Solent.
Bird disturbance explained
The Solent coast is specially protected for the thousands of birds that spend the winter here. We need to protect them from disturbance whilst they are feeding and resting.
Birds perceive people and their dogs as a threat. When people get too close, the birds sense danger and stop feeding. They may walk, swim or fly away. This means they lose valuable feeding time and waste precious energy.
If this disturbance happens often the birds may avoid the area completely. That means more competition for food elsewhere and some birds will be unable to find enough to eat.
Precious feeding and resting time
In cold, wet and windy weather birds use a lot of energy to keep warm and avoid predators.
For many birds, feeding time is limited to around low tide, as they feed in the shallow waters. At high tide they need to rest on the shore or nearby to conserve energy and wait for the next low tide. Some birds are also restricted to feeding during daylight, which is very short during the winter.
Limited places to feed and rest
When birds are disturbed they might not be able to find another area with a similar amount of food. Even if they do, there may be too many other birds trying to feed there. The number of safe places they can feed and roost is limited.
A relentless problem
Over 52 million visits are made to the Solent coast each year, mostly by the 1 million people who live within 5.6km (3.5 miles) of the Solent. New housing will increase the number of visits to 60 million per annum over the next decade. As the coast gets busier with people, disturbance is happening more frequently and so has a greater impact on the birds.
If the birds are unable to feed and rest undisturbed they may not survive the winter or make their migratory journey back to their summer breeding grounds. Those that do may not be healthy enough to breed successfully. Over time the numbers of birds will decline unless we take action now by following the coastal code.