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Waterbird disturbance surveys at the Upper Nene Valley SPA

WFE was commissioned to undertake a study on disturbance of waterbirds in the Upper Nene Valley Special Protection Area (SPA).  We planned the surveys carefully by visiting the site with the client beforehand, and then repeatedly visited four gravel pit sites to monitor human activity and disturbance at each site. Our surveys recorded the impact of disturbance to birds present, routes used by the public and birds using each waterbody.

With urban populations set to grow in Northamptonshire, this study provided information on the impacts of public disturbance on the populations of bird species for which the SPA is designated. These include bittern, coot, gadwall, great crested grebe, mute swan and tufted duck. We recorded the level of response of the waterbirds present to each disturbance. This showed how the birds were being disturbed by different activities.

Waterbird disturbance survey bird

Wild Frontier’s ornithologists surveyed disturbance to waterbirds in the Upper Nene Valley SPA

A variety of activities were seen across the sites including cycling and sailing. The largest proportion of disturbance was at weekends and the highest levels of activity and disturbance were mid-morning. Walkers and dog walkers were found to use the sites most often. These two groups were found to cause most of the disturbance.

These findings meant we could advise the client on the activities at each site and ways to reduce impacts. The client was pleased with the work undertaken and can act on our survey results to encourage more responsible use of the SPA.

Wintering bird surveys in an SPA

  • January 27, 2020
  • Blog

WFE was commissioned to undertake a study of foraging wintering birds on the River Deben Estuary SPA (Special Protection Area) in Suffolk, focusing on a particular area where a freshwater flow was pumped from a sluice at night into the river from surrounding arable land. Natural England were concerned that plans to redirect this waterflow away from the estuary may impact non-breeding waterfowl species such as brent goose and redshank for which the Deben is an internationally important site. Water birds have been found to preferentially associate with freshwater flows over mudflats due to accessibility of fresh water for bathing and drinking and an increase in invertebrate prey densities.

wintering bird surveys

The River Deben is an internationally important site for bird species such as redshank and brent goose

The study compared the ornithological importance of the outfall site, which has intermittent flowing freshwater, with two control sites, one comprised an area of mudflat with no freshwater influence, while the other control was an area of mudflat with a permanent freshwater gravity flow. Two nocturnal surveys and one daylight survey were conducted per month between November and March on all three areas and involved the counting and identifying all bird species present with the assistance of thermal imaging cameras.

The study discovered that the area with the permanent freshwater flow hosted a significantly greater density of birds than the other two sites, which both had a very similar density of birds associated with both the nocturnal surveys and diurnal surveys. It was concluded that the site with the intermittent freshwater water flow had a negligible influence on the local bird communities providing equivalent habitat to a creek with no freshwater input and therefore the removal of the water flow would have no negative impacts on the wintering bird populations listed as interest features of the Deben Estuary SPA.

Heathland habitat assessment for stone curlew

stone curlew habitat survey

Stone Curlews

Wild Frontier was commissioned by the RSPB and Natural England to conduct a survey and assessment of heathland habitat for stone curlews in the Norfolk and Suffolk Breckland. Stone curlews are a rare summer visitor in East Anglia, and are afforded special protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. 

The survey involved visiting each site and categorising the habitat based on vegetation height – an important factor in determining suitability for stone curlew nesting. WFE then mapped the habitats on site and calculated which areas were suitable for stone curlew. 

The assessment provided an indication of site condition and potential population capacity for stone curlew, which can now inform conservation efforts and habitat management for the species. 

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