June, 2017

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • The History of Snettisham

    Author: Jim Scott - Site Manager of RSPB Snettisham Reserves

    Snettisham is rich in history. The village, the beach and the reserve all have a story to tell.

    A discovery of precious metals, known as the Snettisham Hoard, suggests that people have settled in Snettisham village since the Iron Age. Later, people opted to establish communities in this lovely little village, with some of the oldest buildings date back to 1500. Like most Norfolk villages, throughout the ages, Snettisham’s economy has been largely agricultural. However, the coastal position and beach have also contributed largely to the local economy. The beach itself has acted as a haven for smuggling and below the surface lay large quantities of Norfolk Sandstone – the quarries of which have been worked by hand for hundreds of years, providing building materials for local dwellings.

    By Ealdgyth (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11047209

    Yet Norfolk Sandstone is not the only sought after material of Snettisham... the beach is a rich resource.

    The Etna Stone and Shingle company extracted gravel (stone, shingle and sand) from Snettisham beach between the 1920s and 1959. During the early years of World War 2, a RAF gunnery range was established at Snettisham and in 1943 this became the 8AF Provisional Gunnery School under the American Army and Air Force, providing training for B-17 air gunners. The military buildings were a combination of requisitioned bungalows and chalets that stood along the beach front. Trainee gunners lived under canvas on the site of the Diglea holiday camp adjacent to the main camp.


    These incredible photos come from the British Resistance Archive and show the Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol (specially trained, highly secret groups of volunteers created by the British government, during the Second World War, with the aim of resisting the expected occupation of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany). Sgt George Rex Carter (pictured first on left and center second row respectively) worked for Etna Stone & Shingle Company, Snettisham, who produced many items used in the construction of RAF camps during the war. 

    Gravel from the quarries was used to build airstrips and aerodromes across East Anglia. The USAAF also constructed a concrete road that ran from Snettisham to Dersingham. This roadway was destroyed in the floods of 1953 and remnants of concrete blocks can be seen in the reserve's lagoons (pits) today. At some point the site became a Prisoner of War camp, first housing Italian, and then German prisoners.

    The quarries finally closed in 1961 and the northern area adjacent to the old military camp was built over and turned into a caravan park. The gravel pits, which had filled with sea water during the 1949 and 1953 floods were never reclaimed and are now home to a large variety of wading birds and wildfowl.  

    Another distinctive landmark on the shoreline is the ruins of the wooden jetty on the beach that was used to load shingle onto boats to be transported across The Wash. However, it is possible that this structure could date back to the 19th Century when Snettisham beach was used by smugglers to avoid landing cargo at nearby King’s Lynn port.

    Snettisham jetty - Emily Kench

    The RSPB had the opportunity to purchase the lagoons and pieces of adjacent land in 1972, and seeing the potential it had to act as a haven for wildlife jumped at the chance.  Various leased areas have been added subsequently.

    Since its purchase, the RSPB has begun to manage the land for wildlife, enhancing, creating and supporting habitats. The reserve now offers refuge to 450, 000 wildfowl and waders and is the most important inter-tidal wetland site nationally.  

    We are currently crowdfunding to raise money to rebuild the hides at Snettisham lost in the 2013 storm surge. To donate to our #SnettsHide appeal please visit crowdfunder.co.uk/snettishamhide where there are many exclusive rewards on offer. 

  • Eggs stolen from nests of rare little terns in Suffolk

    The little tern is one of the UK’s rarest seabirds, having suffered chronic declines over the past 25 years. These little birds travel a 6,000 mile round trip each year to breed on the beaches of the British Isles, but their numbers have been declining as they struggle to find safe beaches to nest and feed their young, free from predators and human disturbance.

    In the 1980s there were 2,500 breeding pairs, this fell to less than 2,000 pairs in 2000, and it is now estimated that there are currently 1,500 pairs or less.

    Now, over half of the UK breeding population makes a home on the East Anglian coast during the summer, and some of the largest colonies are found in Suffolk. So EU Life+ Little Tern Recovery Project volunteers and staff work shifts to watch and count little terns at Kessingland, Suffolk,  throughout daylight hours, when the birds are most vulnerable to disturbance.

    Unfortunately, this week, this important colony has suffered another devastating decline through illegal egg collecting.

    Between the Sunday evening and Monday morning shifts, human footprints and dog paw prints were discovered in the fenced area and 10 little tern eggs disappeared. The previous week, before the incident took place, the team counted 109 eggs spread across 48 nests. Now not only are there are fewer eggs, but as a result of the disturbance only 19 adults on nests and nine chicks have remained in the colony.

    This is very sad news for the team of dedicated staff and volunteers who have devoted a lot of time to protecting these amazing seabirds, and we can’t be sure at the moment, of the long-term effects of this incident  on the colony.

     

    How can I help?

    It has been illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and it is illegal to possess or control any wild birds' eggs taken since that time under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Taking little tern’s eggs carries a six month prison sentence.

    In response to the incident, the RSPB and officers at Suffolk Police are appealing for information from anybody who witnessed anything suspicious between 8.30pm on Sunday 18 June and 7am on Monday 19 June. If you have any information please call Suffolk Police on 101, quoting reference 43221/17.

    However, there are other ways to help by looking after your local little terns – whether you’re at home or on holiday...

     

    Five ways you can help little terns:

     

    If you are heading to the beach, and would like to help the recovery of little terns, here are a few tips:

     

    • Become a volunteer and help educate others about little terns.
    • Keep back from any special fenced areas you see on beaches and well clear of beach nesting birds at all times.
    • When walking on the beach during the summer, keep dogs on leads and under close control
    • Do not fly kites or kite-surf near the little tern colonies.
    • If you see a little tern trying to nest, don’t approach! Let a volunteer or warden know where it is so we can help protect the nest.

     

     Become a volunteer

    Whilst this incident happened in Suffolk, we are most in need of volunteers on our Norfolk beaches at Winterton-on-sea and Eccles. If you think you can help out, email norfolklittleterns@rspb.org.uk.

  • Yellow wagtail

    Author: Emily Kench. This blog post originally appeared as a feature in the Eastern Daily Press Weekend magazine on 17 June 2017.

    I’m not a particularly detail-oriented person. I tend to be interested in the bigger picture which on occasion means that I miss out on the intricacies of nature. Whilst I could tell you all about the reasons why our wildlife is in decline, the importance of giving nature a home, and the general characteristics of certain species, I would struggle to tell you in detail the scientifically-proven qualities that make them special.

    For instance, I could tell you that yellow wagtails are vibrant, yellow birds that favour damp habitats and farmland. However, until this week when I took the time to sit down and research these special flashes of yellow, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that in mainland Europe, there are six or seven different races of yellow wagtails. These races can be differentiated by their varying facial patterns and are collectively known as ‘flava wagtails’. Across the world, the number of recognised races triples to 18 – a highly diverse species!

    The race of yellow wagtail we see here in the UK graces our shores to breed throughout spring and summer. They join us from their wintering grounds in West Africa, unscathed from the hooves of grazing cattle. These little wagtails weigh no more than 22g, yet they chance trampling from livestock in hope of a tasty treat. It’s easy to fear the worst when a bird hops into the imprints of hooves, yet yellow wagtails always seem to emerge with an insect exposed by a cow’s mowing muzzle.


    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    Wagtails only eat insects. In addition to making the most of insects disturbed by cattle, they’ve employed a couple of their own feeding techniques. The name ‘wagtail’ is self-explanatory – wagtails wag their tails. Normally we associate wagging tails with our faithful hounds that move their appendage to communicate emotions. Dissimilarly wagtails practice tail-wagging to assist them during feeding. Birds run along the ground chasing mobile prey, wagging their tail apparently to flush insects.

    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    The use of this incredible tail doesn’t end there. Wagtails employ another feeding technique called flycatching where they sally out from a perch, performing a zigzagging flight, tumbling and circling with their tail acting as a rudder, snapping at flying insects, trying to catch their prey.


    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    These feeding techniques are not exclusive to warmer climes; wagtails mirror them here in the UK too, making the most of our remaining wet meadows, grazing marshes and river valleys. More recently, yellow wagtails have diversified their habitat, and now make the most of arable farmland, particularly for breeding.

    Despite this diversification, our wonderful wagtails are in decline in the UK – over 25 years these yellow beauties have declined by 67%. The intensification of both arable and pastoral farming is likely to have driven these declines with changes to nesting habitat and a reduction in the availability of insects to eat. It is also likely, given the yellow wagtail’s status as a global citizen that changes in African wintering grounds and migratory routes may also has contributed to their decline.

    Yet, much like other declining farmland species there is still hope! At RSPB Hope Farm, our 181-hectare working farm in Cambridgeshire, by offering open swards for nesting and more untamed areas to forage, these birds have now colonised this once vacant site.


    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    Such a wonderful success story shows not only how nature can have its place alongside profitable farming but that we should also take more time to appreciate the little things in life.

     

    If you’d like more information on yellow wagtails or RSPB Hope Farm please visit rspb.org.uk

    A list of the available RSPB member packages could be found here: www.rspb.org.uk/join

    List of activities to follow in order to give nature home in your garden could be found here: www.rspb.org.uk/myplan .