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Safeguard our sea life

Find out what we're doing around the UK's coasts to help protect our wonderful sea life
  • 2000 miles of seabirds – day three at Coquet Island

    RSPB’s senior policy officer Gareth Cunningham is back with another tale of his seabird journey. In this blog post, Gareth braves the elements to see eider ducks.

    After an exciting day in St Bees Head, I was looking forward to my visit to Coquet Island. The third day started with a relatively straightforward trip complicated only by the weather. A strong wind was blowing in from the East which although dry, meant a possible trip around the island on a boat was looking unlikely.

    But the prospect of seeing on of England’s biggest colonies of eiders nestled along the Northumbria coast was not something I planned on missing!

    A short time later, passing by Hexham and Newcastle, I arrived in Amble and met the RSPB Northumberland Coast Site Manager Steve Morrison, and Marine Conservation Officer Helen Quayle. Taking full advantage of Steve’s generous hospitality, we escaped to his loft and filmed some interviews, hoping the wind would drop enough for the boat to be able to get out of the harbour.

    After an amazing lunch in the local fish and chip shop, we donned out waterproofs and life jackets and left the harbour to find some eiders. Sadly, the weather had swept the sea up into some pretty choppy water and the harbour mouth was well and truly alive! But while the turbulent waters prevented us from getting closer to Coquet, they did provide some spectacular views of diving terns feeding in the mixing waters.

    Eiders are the UK's heaviest duck and the males have this handsome black and white plumage

    The harbour itself did not disappoint, and before long I was looking at eiders aplenty. Their almost sarcastic call echoed round the harbour as groups of males chased females. Coquet Island is owned by the Duke of Northumberland, and managed by the RSPB for its important seabird colonies.

    Eider ducks nest on the island and then make their way to the Coquet estuary, where they form crèches supervised by non-breeding females called ‘aunties’. The area is also used by eiders in the winter so a great place for all year round duck viewing. However, the eider are currently lack protection when they leave the island.

    Thankfully the UK Government’s tranche 3 MCZ consultation (for a bit of background, have a look at my earlier blog) has recognised this gap and is proposing a new site that not only includes the eiders of Coquet, but also those of the Farnes. This is great news and if designated the site will provide year-round protection.

    You can watch the short video of my visit below.

    After a cup of tea and a slice of cake (thanks Paul!), I headed South towards Whitby. Traversing the traffic of the Tyne tunnel, I passed through my old haunts of Middlesbrough and Guisborough before heading up into the North Yorkshire Moors towards my accommodation for the evening, another YHA in Boggle Hole.

    Of course, I didn’t head straight there! Taking the opportunity of another fine evening, I traversed the moors in search of birds and was rewarded with some spectacular views of the sun setting across the heathland.

    Keep up to date with the latest news on all things marine (including the tranche 3 MCZs) via twitter and the blog pages. In the meantime our friends at the Wildlife Trusts have launched an online action giving people the chance to have their say and support these new MCZ's. Please help by signing and get these special sites protected.

  • 2000 miles of seabirds – day two at St Bees Head

    RSPB’s senior policy officer Gareth Cunningham is back with another tale of his seabird journey. In this blog post, Gareth visits the beautiful St Bees Head in Cumbria.

    Back in May I travelled across England to visit a few of our best seabird sites. Some of these we asked to be included in the Government’s proposals to protect current Tranche 3 Marine Conservation Zone consultation (for a bit of background, have a look at my earlier blog).

    The planned route across England for the first week

    The good news is two of the sites I visited have been included in the proposals; St Bees Head and Coquet Island. But the work doesn’t stop there as we need to make sure these sites move from just proposals to being fully designated. Only then will the fantastic wildlife that lives and breeds here be fully protected.

    It was serendipitous then that St Bees Head was the first seabird site I reached on my journey. I had, by a stroke of luck, managed to pick one of the hottest and driest weeks of the year so far. The chance of riding for hours in soggy gear was slim so I set off knowing my biggest challenges would be the tedium of motorways and making sure to stay hydrated.

    The roads were quiet, and heading towards St Bees Head, it’s easy to see why the Lake District is such a popular place with walkers and other tourists. Rolling hills, wooded glades and picturesque streams greeted me at every turn. Soon St Bees Head loomed, home to England’s only nesting black guillemots.

    The stunning cliff views from St Bees Head

    Currently the land at St Bees Head is protected for its significant seabird colony - including nearly 10,000 common guillemot and lesser numbers of fulmar, kittiwake and puffin. However, the waters around the colony have no legal protection even though they are essential during the important breeding season.

    This is why the site has been suggested as one of the amended Marine Conservation Zones in the Defra Tranche 3 consultation. We hope that it is given formal protection to ensure that this thriving seabird colony is safe whilst at sea as well as on land.

    You can watch the short video of my visit below.

    Waving goodbye to St Bees Head I hit the road once more, travelling east towards Hexham. Eventually I found my accommodation for the evening; The Sill was an amazing YHA located in Northumberland just a stone’s throw from Hadrian’s Wall. As would become the norm for my trip, the evening consisted of downloading videos, charging batteries and checking the map.

    Keep up to date with the latest news on all things marine (including the tranche 3 MCZs) via twitter and the blog pages. In the meantime our friends at the Wildlife Trusts will soon be launching an action giving people the chance to have their say and support these new MCZ's. Check here for updates.

  • Marine planners visit Yorkshire coastline

    In late May, Yorkshire’s seabirds received some special visitors seeking to learn more about this special coastline and its inhabitants. Despite the fog, the cliffs of Bempton and Flamborough provided a spectacular setting to discuss how marine planning can help our sealife.   

    The visit by marine planners from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), was hosted by the RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) and Flamborough Head Management Scheme.

    Left to right: Amy Balding (MMO), Ali Barratt (RSPB), Zoe MacKay (MMO), Heather Davison (Flamborough Head Management Scheme), Bex Lynam (YWT), Ana Cowie (YWT) © Helen Quayle

    The MMO is developing marine plans for England’s seas. These plans will:

    • Set out priorities and directions for future development.
    • Inform sustainable use of marine resources.
    • Help marine users understand the best locations for their activities.

    The development of marine plans is a significant step in protecting our sealife and the MMO welcomes input from all stakeholders.

    The Yorkshire coast is a particularly important area for seabirds which nest on 400ft chalk cliffs stretching 17 miles from Bridlington to the north of Filey. Every year, gannets, kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills, guillemots and fulmar return here to nest. Counts in 2017, revealed these are home to nearly 300,000 seabirds rearing over 100,000 chicks making it the largest mainland seabird colony in the UK.

    RSPB Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head © Helen Quayle.

    Looking out to sea from the cliffs, hundreds of birds can be seen bobbing on the waves and travelling back and forth in search of food – some travelling hundreds of kilometres. Below the waves Yorkshire’s seas are home to minke whales, harbour porpoise, octopus, lobsters, common and grey seals, over 100 species of seaweed including kelp forests, sea squirts, mussels and fish such as plaice and sandeel (sandeels are a favourite food for seabirds including puffins and kittiwakes). 

    Yorkshire’s cliffs offer a safe place to nest, but to ensure that seabirds have access to plentiful food supplies, the waters where they feed also need protection. We hope that marine planning, alongside other work to conserve sealife, including the creation of protected areas, will help to secure the future of this colony and others.

    Puffin © Ben Andrew

    Zoe Mackay, Marine Planner (North East) said: “Our visit to Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs was a fantastic opportunity to see one of many very special parts of the north east marine plan area.  Despite the recent poor weather conditions, the site housed thousands of nesting birds including puffins and the largest breeding population of gannets in the UK, which was an incredible sight to behold.”

    The visit gave the marine planning team insight into how successful management plans, and positive working relationships between the site managers and marine users, have led to a combined effort to both protect the site and allow appropriate access for tourism and recreational users.”

    Marine planning is also taking place in Scotland, Ireland and Wales and it will be important that marine planners consider how plans will work alongside each other as well as considering the movements of sealife and migrating birds across plan areas.