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Record-breaking year for ringed plover chicks at Heacham and Snettisham

Plovers in Peril.

Published: Thursday, 21st September 2023

Published on behalf of the RSPB.

Conservationists in Norfolk are celebrating a fourfold increase of ringed plovers this year, thanks to efforts led by the RSPB.

Numbers of these vulnerable fledglings, who hatched on the beaches at Heacham and Snettisham earlier this year, have quadrupled since 2021, with dozens having taken to the skies as the breeding season ends.

The increase has been welcomed by staff and volunteers working to protect them as part of the Plovers in Peril programme.

Twenty-five ringed plover chicks fledged from beaches at Heacham and Snettisham in 2023 - more than double last year’s total and a fourfold increase on the total number since the project first launched. When combined with numbers from other sites, including nearby RSPB Snettisham, 40 chicks have fledged along this stretch of beach this year.

Plovers in Peril launched in 2021, in partnership with Wild Ken Hill and the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, as a response to worrying declines of the birds on Norfolk’s Beaches.

Funding for the project has come from the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk via the habitats monitoring and mitigation fund.

Now in its third year, the Plovers in Peril project team is celebrating a record season for ringed plover with their highest number of fledged chicks to date. The team have thanked the local communities whose support has helped to achieve it.

RSPB project officer, Wynona Legg, said:

“Before we started this project, there was no protection for the birds here at all, and they were clinging on by a thread, but I’ve always believed it’s possible for beach nesting birds to thrive alongside people at a busy site such as this one.

“With results like this, after just three years, that belief is stronger than ever, and it gives us hope for the future. There’s been such a positive movement to look out for these birds and that positivity ripples out.

“The success of this project is testament to this community and to the power people can generate when they come together for nature and for a species struggling to survive in a rapidly changing world.”

The project, centred around The Wash, an internationally important site for wetland species, provides the declining birds a much-needed safe space to breed, feed and raise their tiny families on a popular stretch of coast from Snettisham to Heacham.

By offering vital protection measures such as seasonal fencing, signage and working face-to-with beach visitors, staff and volunteers are jubilant, having seen their efforts pay off.

Alongside project officer Wynona, a growing team of dedicated volunteers drawn from the local community have been offering their time and support to raise awareness and protect these special birds throughout the season in all weather.

The team of 40 passionate volunteers has steadily grown since the project began and still growing. Plovers in Peril attracts people from all walks of life who are keen to use their skills in whichever way they can to help these often-overlooked birds.

Dominic Buscall, founder of the Wild Ken Hill project, said:

“With another year of data, it’s now clear that the RSPB-led efforts to protect beach nesting birds at Snettisham and Heacham are working.

“We continue to support this project at Wild Ken Hill and are extremely grateful for all the support and engagement we’ve had from residents and visitors to the area. This is only possible with the help of the local community”.

Although the nesting season has now come to an end, Wynona and her team are looking forward to next year.

Claire Wiggs, ecologist for the Borough Council, said:

“Protecting shore nesting birds is essential to preserving the integrity of the North Norfolk Coast.  The special ecological nature of the area is one of the things people love about visiting West Norfolk, so we are proud to support a project that protects nature alongside people.”

Visitors to Norfolk’s beaches can play their part by reducing the threat to beach nesting birds, particularly during the breeding season, which runs from March to August.

By taking a few simple steps, such as avoiding fenced off areas, paying attention to signs and keeping dogs on leads, beachgoers can make a huge difference to the survival of these important species and secure their future for in Norfolk for future generations.

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