Electric fences to protect nesting birds from people walking their dogs have been hailed a success, as popular beaches work to reduce damage from trampling.
The beach at Holme-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk has breathtaking views, making it incredibly popular with visitors and dog-walkers.
However, birdwatchers and conservationists have complained that its popularity has meant that off-lead dogs and their walkers have been trampling the site, disturbing rare nesting birds, causing nests to fail.
A recent study in Spain found that dogs have an impact: visitors accompanied by dogs disturbed Kentish plovers from foreshore nests 80% of the time when walking on beach paths, compared with just 12.9% of the time when without a dog. Nesting birds will abandon their nests if disturbed too often, or their eggs may become too cold or too hot to hatch.
This year the conservation charity Birds on the Brink conducted a trial scheme with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, erecting electric fences to stop off-the-lead dogs from disturbing nests of birds including terns and oystercatchers.
Birds on the Brink said: “In the past, attempts at nesting by little terns, oystercatchers and ringed plovers have often failed due to disturbance, and breeding attempts are being increasingly disrupted now that more and more people are visiting this area of coast.”
Since the sensitive areas were roped off with electric fencing, the breeding season has been a success. Fifteen oystercatcher chicks fledged, along with two little terns and four ringed plovers.
The BBC Springwatch presenter Chris Packham has hailed the scheme, saying the measures had “resulted in a bumper year for the embryo dune birds”.
Praising the success of the project, Birds on the Brink said these rare open spaces were “used as a playground” by dog-walkers and beachgoers, sometimes with little regard for nature.
The lack of trampling and disturbance also improved the cover of rare dune plants. Sea rocket as well as other plants has thrived.
Dr Kevin Walker, the head of science at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, has visited the site.
He said: “This is what foredunes should look like in the UK: a dense tangle of sea rocket (Cakile maritima), frosted orache (Atriplex laciniata) and prickly saltwort (Salsola kali) protected from human disturbance. I’ve never seen so much of these plants growing in one place in the British Isles.”
Other popular beaches have put measures in place to protect their dunes and nesting birds from the impact of dog-walkers.
Holkham beach, also in north Norfolk, is is where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge walk their cocker spaniel. However, the hordes of visitors with their four-legged friends have affected the local flora and fauna, particularly nesting birds.
This year, Jake Fiennes, who is in charge of conservation on the Holkham estate, restricted access to much of the beach from off-the-lead dogs, after consulting beach users.
There are about 300,000 visits by dogs and their walkers a year on the beach, which has had a knockon effect on the local nature. As footfall increased, the number of ringed plovers decreased. Now, during breeding season, dogs have to be kept on leads around the dunes where the birds nest, and many nesting areas are roped off.
This article by Helena Horton was first published by The Guardian on 6 September 2021. Lead Image: A little egret (Egretta garzetta) beside a brackish pool on the marshes at Holme in north Norfolk. Photograph: SJ Images/Alamy.
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