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May 2016 Newsletter

Rights and Wrongs.
April Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


          Rights and Wrongs

                                         Dog chasing waders at Hoylake  Roy Lowry.

"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. 

Protection on the Dee Estuary

The Dee Estuary and North Wirral coast is protected by the following designations:

(a) Ramsar Site under International Treaty.
(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.

The websites describing the above all mention disturbance, and I quote from one about SPAs:
"SPAs are intended to safeguard the habitats of the species for which they are selected and to protect the birds from significant disturbance."

There have been many acts of Parliament transposing the above treaties and directives into UK law including 'The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000' which created an arrestable offence of reckless disturbance.

There is much about SSSIs and the Royal Photographic 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."

Natural England 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".

Further Thoughts

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.

                              Powered Para Glider at West Kirby Tanny Robinson.

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?

References/Further Reading:

1. Ramsar Convention,

2. Special Protection Areas (Scottish Government Website)

2. Birds Directive, JNCC website:

3. Royal Photographic Society:  Code of Practice.

4. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. JNCC website:

5. Natural England: SSSI enforcement policy statement.

6. Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens - please contact the Rangers at Thurstaston Visitor Centre if you wish to join or require further information (0151 648 4371).

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 Smith 

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April Bird News

Last month I wrote about a high pressure system 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 month. The table shows that the first arrivals of every one of the species listed was later than 2015.

Species 2016 Location 2015 2014
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 and
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.

                                   Blackcap at Lingham Lane, Leasowe, April 21st Jeff Cohen.

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.

                                          White Wagtail at Parkgate, April 8th Tanny Robinson.   

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.

                           Common Cranes over Burton Mere Wetlands, April 11th Stephen Davies

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.

Richard Smith.

Many thanks go to Eddie Williams, Damian Waters, David Haigh, Bernard East, Mark Turner, Andrew Ingham, Mal Sergeant, Kevin Lyth, Paul Mason, Steve Round, Richard Beckett, Nigel Young, Colin Schofield, Roy Wilson, Steve Hinde,Ian Hughes,  Charles Farnell,  Brian Griffith, Matt Thomas, Graham Connolly, Roy Lowry, David Thompson, Chris Butterworth, Paul Lee, Jane Turner, Jeff Cohen, Allan Conlin, David Small, Jeremy Bradshaw, Huw Morgan, Frank Burns, Ian Dyer, Alan Hitchmough, Lisa Duffy, Steve Williams, Sean O'Hara, Elliot Montieth, Mike Turnton, Ray Eades, Carole Killikelly, Tanny Robinson, Paul Lee, David Leeming, Paul Vautrinot, Bruce Atherton, John Spottiswood, Henry Cook,Keith Ackerley, Neil McMorran, Dave Edwards, Andy Thomas, George Knight,  Denzil Nicklin, Alan Iving,  Marc Gannon, Gavin Butler, Ian Douglas, Stephen Burke, Rob Morsley, Ian Cotterell, Simon Johnson, Ian Mansell, Tony Williamson, Jeff Stephens, the Lighthouse and Wirral Birding Blog, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during March. All sightings are gratefully received. 

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What to expect in May

The spring migration will still be in full swing until at least mid-month and we can get some good numbers of birds passing through. Spotted Flycatcher is one species in particular to look out for as they are late migrants. Large numbers of Swifts and hirundines will be flying over and some days we could see thousands. Given a west wind we can also get large movements out to sea with hundreds of Gannets as well as many Common Scoters, Manx Shearwaters, skuas and terns. The first week in May is usually the best time to see and hear Wood Warblers, they are becoming incresingly rare but Stapledon Wood, Caldy, is a good spot to search for them.

Some birds, mainly young ones, overshoot their normal breeding area and this can result in some good rarities turning up; in the past few years we've had Black-winged Pratincole, Bluethroat, Golden Oriole, Nightingale and Red-rumped Swallow.  

Over the past couple of years we've had a really good passage of Dunlin with up to 15,000 at Hoylake, along with Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings. Look at these birds with awe as some will have flown all the way from South Africa and are heading for the high Arctic to breed. Also look out for summer plumaged waders with Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers looking gorgeous in their breeding finery. Among these waders may well be some rarities with Broad-billed Sandpiper, Dotterels and Teminck's Stint all seen over the past few years.

                                    Summer plumaged Sanderling at Hoylake Charles Farnell
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Forthcoming Events

May Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.

6th May, 11.24hrs (BST), 9.8m. 
7th May, 12.12hrs (BST), 10.0m.
8th May, 12.59hrs (BST), 10.0m. 

Forthcoming Events

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. 

Friday 6th May - Weekend Walkabout, at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB.
1pm to 3pm (approx finish)
Price: Free (normal reserve entry charges apply to non-members).

Join one of our friendly, knowledgeable volunteers for a gentle walk from the Reception Hide to the end of the Hillfort Trail on Burton Point, to learn more about the wildlife that thrives here, the work we do to give nature a home and the remarkable history of the estuary.

Great for first time visitors or those who'd like a guide to help them get the most enjoyment from a visit. With constant changes as we move through the seasons, it's impossible to predict what might be seen but nesting wading birds, herons and ducks are guaranteed, with an array of colourful flowers, butterflies and dragonflies emerging into the warmer months, there's always something to marvel.

No booking required, just turn up on the day. A reasonable level of fitness and sturdy footwear are required. Ring 0151 353 8478 for further details.