Sunday, 8 March 2020

Webs and dogs

Like many coastal sites next to suburbia,  Heysham is a dog exercising fest with a natural wide-open space covering most of Heysham Barrows and a designated more linear open space running south from Heysham Nature Reserve.  To the north of Heysham Head, the prom, inshore foreshore and some nearby fields/grassy slopes are used.  The significant number of registered companies and unmarked vans heaving with dogs add to the mix.

It needs ONE dog to shift a roost of several thousand Knot.  This used to happen on the old Heliport seawall roost.   When it ceased to become an official heliport, deregulation allowed all and sundry to climb over gates, slide through broken fences etc and it became yet another dog exercising area.  Notices to keep out were ignored by the relatively small minority who insisted on their right to use this area.

Fortunately after several years of negotiation, we were able to establish that it was the seawall itself which was the important roost, not Peel Port's land on the old Heliport which was simply 'spreading room' when wave action led to reduced space on the seawall.   Therefore, in conjunction with the hopefully permanent walker-unfriendly beach below the seawall, secure fencing backed up by notices  has completely excluded dog-walkers

So lets look at today's WeBs between Ocean Edge and Morecambe Battery

1) West End groyne and Battery groyne - perfect conditions for wind and kite surfing - this is the designated area for them - no birds
2) Sunny slopes groyne - a 'pers comm' that dogs had been running about on the newly-created sandy shore on the northern lee side of this groyne right up to when it was covered.   When I arrived, there were just 70 Oystercatchers with no sign of the large Redshank roost with the reason explained by a local
3) Horse paddocks - secure from dog access - 80 Oystercatcher
4)  Heysham old heliport seawall.  Despite wave-action reducing the roosting area:  Knot 8300, Oystercatcher 1900 (lower than midwinter - birds returning to breeding grounds now), Turnstone 125, Redshank 120, Ringed Plover 7, Lapwing 4 and Dunlin 110 
5) Red Nab - nothing - very little roosting area but disturbed by dogs

Even in the 'open house' days on the heliport, the vast majority of dog walkers were great and avoided the area at high tide to let the birds roost in peace.  This attitude has latterly been helped by the Natural Ambassadors team from Morecambe Bay Partnership.   However, it only needs ONE dog to displace e.g. a huge Knot roost - in the case of the heliport way to the south at Middleton saltmarsh 

This is why, backed up by plenty of evidence, including 'official surveys' of dog-walker behaviour, language such as "keep it under close control within sight of you" (e.g. the xxxxx National Coastal Footpath) is seen by a significant chunk of dog walkers as simply "it can be let off the lead".   Anyone accessing "discussions" on eg Brexit on Social Media  (or e.g. been involved in teaching) know that there is a proportion of society who 'wont be told what to do' despite clear, polite and patient reasoning.   It is from among this demographic of our society that the unfortunately inevitable flushing of roosting waders happens on a virtually daily basis at any site without secure barriers to access.  This can be a fence where any gates are locked palisade or a groyne made of large juxtaposed rocks or deep water with a soft bottom but anything less than that will not work.

Other sightings
Kittiwake - distant flock of c35 swirled round and seemed to land on the sea or flew very low
Guillemot - one in wp or 2cy flew in
Pale-bellied Brent Goose - 16 were at Middleton saltmarsh at High tide with obvious implications re-earlier location(s)