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.
  • 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.

  • Eating our way to a world richer in nature

    Author: Rupert Masefield. This blog post originally appeared in Let’s Talk.

    Food, glorious food! Is there any aspect of our lives and the world we inhabit that is not touched in some way by food? It’s everywhere: at work, at home, at school, in our fridges and freezers, on supermarket shelves. Social rituals are built around the meals we share with our families, friends and colleagues, and what we eat is becoming more and more central to our ideas about healthy living.

    It’s impossible to overstate the importance of food in our lives, but how we consume it is just one side of the story. Just as our eating habits have a huge impact our personal health, how we grow the food we eat has an impact on the health of the countryside and the wildlife that lives there. It’s generally agreed that a healthy diet is a good start when it comes to improving our personal health, so can we also eat our way to having a healthier natural environment in the landscapes where our food is grown?


    The edible landscape

    Three quarters of the land area of the UK is used to produce food, making the British countryside a truly edible landscape. Outside of our towns and cities, almost everywhere you might care to look you will see evidence of food production in action: fields of wheat and corn in the spring and summer, pastures being grazed by sheep or cattle, sugar beet growing in neat rows. We’re not the only creatures depending on the countryside for sustenance though.

    Photo credit: Ben Andrew

    The rich wildlife of the British farmed landscape is one of the great joys of living in or visiting the countryside. No-one who has listened to a skylark in full song, or watched a barn owl quarter a field as it hunts, or seen a kestrel hovering over a ditch, can fail to appreciate just how special the wildlife of the countryside is. Unfortunately many of our most iconic farmland birds are finding life in the modern farmed landscape difficult, due to loss of habitat, food plants, and increased herbicide and pesticide use. Turtle doves, for example, have declined by more than 96 per cent since the 1970s, and urgently need us to take action to save them.

    Photo credit: Andy Hay


    Eating for nature

    Agricultural and environmental policy plays a big part in how nature-friendly our farms are, but we can all make a difference by supporting farmers who are already helping wildlife. Many farmers work hard to look after wildlife on their farms, and the more consumers can do the support them and encourage others to follow their example, the better.

    Here are some top tips for how you can help nature through the food you eat:

    • Try to buy organic foods where you can – it is often great for birds and the environment.
    • Reduce the amount of meat and dairy in your diet – not only is it healthier to eat less meat, it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.

    • Look out for meat from 'Conservation Grazing' schemes when you shop – cattle grazing is extremely important for maintaining many areas of wildlife rich habitat.
    • Buy direct from farmers at farmers markets, farm shops and box schemes. You can even speak to the farmer about wildlife on his farm, and buying direct from a wildlife-friendly farmer will give them a better return on their produce.

    • Look out for wildlife-friendly food labels like the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) marquee, or Conservation Grade ‘Fair to Nature’ (used by Allison Flour, Steve’s Leaves and the RSPB amongst others).

    For more ides for how you can help nature through your food choices, visit www.eating-better.og


    Four farmland birds to look for in the countryside this summer

    Turtle dove – more than half of the UK’s remaining turtle doves are now found in the East of England. Loss of arable weeds that turtle doves feed on has seen their numbers fall drastically, but farmers and conservationists are working to replace these lost plants and provide turtle doves with the food they need to successfully breed. Listen out for their purring turr-turr call coming from area of scrub and thick hedgerows.

    Photo credit: Andy  Hay

    Skylark – renowned for their distinctive song flight, to establishing their territory males fly vertically upwards from the ground singing continuously as they go until they reach their pinnacle and descend back to the ground. The whole display can last five minutes. Farmers are helping skylarks by providing them with bare plots on the ground where they can nest.

    Photo credit: Chris Gomersall

    Yellowhammer – males are unmistakeable with their bright yellow head, breast and belly. Look for them singing from the top of a hedgerow on the edge of fields. Their distinctive song is often described using the phrase ‘ a little bit of bread and no cheese’!

    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    Lapwing – one of the most distinctive birds in flight and with amazing aerial courtship displays, lapwings can be seen in many parts of the countryside, including arable fields and wet grazed pasture. They are known colloquially as peewits after their high-pitched whistling flight calls.

    Photo credit: John Bridges

    Visit a farm to find out more about farming and farmland wildlife

    Every June, hundreds of farms open the gates to welcome visitors on Open Farm Sunday, giving people the chance to see what farming is all about. This year, on Sunday 11 June, the RSPB will be holding an Open Farm Sunday event at its wildlife-friendly demonstration farm, Hope Farm, in Cambridgeshire.

    Find out more about Open Farm Sunday on Hope Farm at www.rspb.org.uk/hopefarm

    Find an Open Farm Sunday event near you, visit www.farmsunday.org

  • 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.