Last week saw the release of the RSPB’s Annual State of the UK's Birds report with some worrying results. With declines as large as 95% since the 1970’s for some species we could all be forgiven for thinking there is very little hope in saving some of these species, but here in South Essex, and indeed across the rest of the UK we aren’t giving up!
Overwintering Pochard are a species that have declined by 21% nationally and here in South Essex we are working hard to help reverse that decline. Since 2011/12 our wintering Pochard count has gone from 36 to a peak count this winter in excess of 200. This is thanks to the warden team, staff and volunteers, who have been working hard to retain high water levels and create large deep open bodies of water that make great feeding spaces for these birds.
Corn Bunting by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Corn Bunting, a once common farmland bird, have declined by 90% since 1970 and Essex is now one of the last strongholds for this species. Here in South Essex our breeding pair numbers so far remain stable and across our reserves we have seen an increase in the distribution of the breeding population with up to four singing males recorded on West Canvey Marsh in 2013. Corn Buntings are a beautiful stocky little bird which can often be seen sitting on a perch high up singing away. On Bowers Marsh, the most recent addition to the South Essex reserves, we have planted up some wild bird cover crop to attract and support wintering flocks in an attempt to keep Essex a special place for these birds.
Turtle Dove are another drastically declining species. A renowned symbol of love and an important part of our ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, make these birds a cultural icon but they could be extinct as a breeding bird in the UK in less than 10 years time! Over the past 16 years they have seen declines of 85% with a total decline of 95% since 1970 meaning these birds are under serious threat. Through scientific research it has been discovered that contributing factors to their decline are the lack of available food when they arrive in the UK and the distance this food is from their suited breeding habitat resulting in poor breeding success rates. Here in South Essex, with the support of Essex Birdwatching Society who donated all the seed for this project, we have created 2 hectares of feeding plots on Bowers Marsh in the form of open weedy habitat planted up with seeds of fumitory, clovers and black medick. Veolia Environmental Services, as part of the Pitsea landfill restoration have also worked to change their flower seed mix to one that benefits the turtle dove creating a massive 3.5 hectares of turtle dove feeding habitat up on Pitsea Landfill. We hope with these measures in place the Turtle Doves that we know visit South Essex every year, will go on to have successful breeding years, in turn boosting numbers in the longer term.
All this hard work, plus lots of other work we haven’t mentioned, couldn’t happen without your support so in time for Christmas we wanted to thank everyone from our funders, to our members, to our volunteers and to those that donate money or buy our pin badges. Together we can make a difference for wildlife and make South Essex and indeed the rest of the UK a better place for all of our threatened UK species.
To find out how to support our work then please contact us on the details below or visit us down at the South Essex Wildlife Garden in Wat Tyler Country Park
South Essex Collections Page
Twitter - @RSPBEssex
Facebook - RSPB Essex
Leila Balin - South Essex Campaigns and Communications Officer
Marsh Harriers by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Marsh harriers have been showing well recently with several birds in the area, both males and females being spotted. Bowers Marsh is a great place to see them, as is the hide in Wat Tyler Country Park overlooking Pitsea Scrape, where fly-bys are regularly seen. A single scaup is still using the reserves, mainly moving between Pitsea Scrape and the reservoir at West Canvey Marshes. The high water levels on Pitsea Scrape are providing great conditions for other diving ducks too, with up to 170 pochard using the site.
Wader numbers are also on the up, the saline lagoon at Bowers Marsh is especially good at the moment, and the mud is providing birds with lots of food, over 350 dunlin being a highlight. The saline lagoon is also an important roost site for a wide variety of waders, so timing your visit with high tide should provide views of more birds and a bigger spectacle. Issues such as rising tides due to climate change, and events such as the recent tidal surges, mean places like these will become even more important in the future as safe refuges for roosting birds.
Michael Poole - Assistant Warden