"People have the right to do whatever they want on the beach!!" said the rather aggressive man. A nonsensical statement of course, but I realised what he meant which was that people had the right to walk on the beach without being bawled at by some mad birdwatcher (i.e. me). It was my own fault, we are told as Voluntary Wardens always to quietly approach people, explain about the birds and politely ask them if they wouldn't mind stopping their dog chasing the birds or could they possibly walk in a slightly different direction in order to avoid disturbing the wader roost. Instead I had shouted at a woman, who was allowing her two large dogs to chase a flock of Knot, from 100 yards away. Sometimes shouting is the only way to stop disturbance but it does get peoples' backs up so is not normally recommended. The man who talked to me, ranting about peoples' 'rights', had nothing to do with the woman, and was just a busybody, but he did get me thinking about exactly what 'rights' people really have on a highly protected site like the Dee estuary; especially in relation to letting dogs chase birds and the many other recreational activities, such as Kite Surfing, which results in birds being severely disturbed.
(a) Ramsar Site under International
(b) Special Protection Area (SPA) under the European Union Birds and Habitats Directives.
(c) Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the European Union Habitats Directive.
(d) Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) under UK law.
There is much about SSSIs and the Royal
Society neatly summarises this:
"anyone who intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages any of the flora, fauna, geological or physio-graphical features by reason of which a site is of special interest, or intentionally or recklessly disturbs any of those fauna, is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine."
have a six page document entitled "SSSI enforcement policy statement"
which you can download from their website. They, in conjunction with
the police, are responsible for enforcing the law, e.g. "we
can take appropriate enforcement action when the law is broken and when
the habitat and features of SSSIs are damaged, disturbed or
destroyed" and "Types of offence (any person): Intentionally or
recklessly damaging, destroying or disturbing
any of the habitats or features of an SSSI".
I think we can safely say people do NOT have a 'right' to let their dogs chase birds on the shores of the Dee estuary and North Wirral (or, indeed, any other similar site), nor do they have a 'right' to disturb birds through the many other activities which people partake in besides and on the estuary.
Prosecutions are very much a last resort and only happen in extreme circumstances. Natural England make a point of saying they only take people to court if they are certain of getting a conviction and where costs can be recovered. So prosecutions are very rare, and it's always far better to try and prevent disturbance in the first place by education through such means as wardening, notice boards, leaflets and the media (for example see this article in The Globe).
Wirral Borough Council own most of the shore from Heswall right round to New Brighton, and it is this area which is the most heavily used for recreational purposes. WBC do support the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardening scheme at West Kirby, but away from West Kirby there is much disturbance, most worringly at the important high tide roost at Hoylake. Interestingly, I understand that Natural England have recently asked WBC to reduce this disturbance and I know somebody has been monitoring the causes of disturbance through the winter. So it will be interesting to see if anything comes out of that.
I've made a point of mentioning dogs and their owners as causes of disturbance as there are so many of them, but there are plenty of other problem activities. The photo shows a powered para glider at West Kirby landing on the shore full of gulls and terns. As well as recklessly disturbing the birds they are a danger to themselves and the general public, and they are also breaking all manner of CAA regulations. As well as trying to stop these WBC need also to be more active in regulating Kite Surfing at West Kirby, Red Rocks and Hoylake, and Para Gliding at Thurstaston, both of which cause havoc among roosting and feeding waders particularly during the winter months.
At the end of the day is it really too much to ask people to respect the wildlife of a beautiful wilderness such as the Dee Estuary?
1. Ramsar Convention, http://www.ramsar.org/.
Protection Areas (Scottish Government Website)
Birds Directive, JNCC website: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1373.
PLEASE NOTE: My research for the above article mainly involved 'Googling' the relevant web pages and I have quoted from official web sites as much as possible. I also have had some experience, as secretary of the Dee Estuary Conservation Group for several years, in such matters as Ramsar sites, SPAs and various disturbance issues, and much experience being a Voluntary Warden for three different schemes at Gronant, Point of Ayr and West Kirby. Nevertheless, I take full responsibility for any of my own misunderstandings, perhaps getting things plain wrong or missing out of important information. I am NOT an expert on Wildlife Law!
Richard SmithTop of Page
Last month I wrote about a high
holding up the migration due to cold north winds, in April it was a low
pressure system also resulting in cold north winds which effectively
killed any northwards movement in the last 10 days of the
The table shows that the first arrivals of every one of the species
listed was later than 2015.
|White Wagtail||15th March||Hilbre||10th March||8th March|
|Sand Martin||16th March||Neston||7th March||20th March|
|Wheatear||23rd March||Meols||11th March||10th March|
|Swallow||24th March||Shotton||20th March||19th March|
|Willow Warbler||29th March|| Leasowe
|22nd March||12th March|
|House Martin||7th April||Parkgate||31st March||29th March|
|Whitethroat||13th April||Burton||12th April||4th April|
|Cuckoo||21st April||Leasowe||20th April||2nd May|
|Swift||22nd April||Burton||19th April||3rd May|
Nevertheless, before the north winds set in we had some good numbers, particularly of Wheatears with over 100 in the Leasowe Lighthouse area on the 4th, 57 on Hilbre on the 12th and at least 50 at Red Rocks on the 21st. We had a toal of 25 Ring Ouzel records and 24 Redstart records, not quite as good as 2015 with 31 and 37 respectively. Although the White Wagtail passage was slow on Wirral there was an excellent count of at least 110 on Gronant beach on the 21st.
We had some good high tides which covered the marsh off Heswall and Parkgate resulting in excellent views of at least four Short-eared Owls on the 8th off Heswall Golf Course, with three there the next day. But the most interesting event as far as I was concerned was seeing the over-wintering flock of Pink-footed Geese, probably around 4,000 strong at that time, leaving the Dee marshes on the 9th at the start of their migration back to Iceland. They left in many flocks, some several hundred strong, from dawn to high tide, i.e. from 7.30am to 1pm. Many passed over my house in Caldy and were seen from Hilbre and all along North Wirral. I was at Heswall when a total of at least a thousand took off from the marshes as the tide came in. It was certainly a mass exodus, just awesome.
There were some periods of westerly winds which resulted in some good sea watching including 65 Gannets on the 4th and 115 Little Gulls on the 16th, plus Arctic Skuas, Arctic Terns, Common Terns, Little Terns and Sandwich Terns. But March's huge flocks of Common Scoters never reappeared presumably moving elsewhere.
As usual Heswall shore was the best place to see Whimbrels with max of 56 on the 22nd and 62 on the 23rd. There were a couple of records of Curlew Sandpipers at Heswall with at least two on the 13th and a single on the 14th, plus one at Hilbre on the 24th. April records of Curlew Sandpipers are very unusual, the only one I can find over the past five years is a summer plumaged bird at Hilbre on April 26th 2015.
Six Ospreys flew over, all in the first half of the month. At least one ringtail Hen Harrier was recorded many times but just three records of a single Marsh Harrier. Rarities included two sightings of an Iceland Gull on East Hoyle Bank, two Common Cranes flew over Burton Mere Wetlands on the 11th and over Red Rocks on the 13th, and a Hooded Crow flew over Leasowe Lighthouse on the 30th.
Summer plumaged Dunlins by Leasowe Lighthouse, April 20th © Benjamin Twist.
6th May, 11.24hrs (BST), 9.8m.
7th May, 12.12hrs (BST), 10.0m.
8th May, 12.59hrs (BST), 10.0m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire
Countryside Service and the
RSPB (Dee Estuary):
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.