Connecting for Nature

Keeping Yorkshire folk in touch with their local biodiversity news


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Larpool Cemetery meadow raking

A recent volunteer task at Larpool Cemetery, Whitby coincided with #GreatBigGreenWeek, a celebration of environmental action. A band of committed helpers from the Whitby Naturalists’ Club put in some hard graft to rake and gather up the hay to help the parks department with its trial management regime.

The cemetery has some good areas of unimproved grassland with a promising diversity of native wildflower species. If one can successfully change the management regime from regular short mowing / strimming to a once-a-year cut like a traditional hay meadow, then these flora can better thrive, bloom and provide a valuable habitat and a great resource for pollinators. The tricky bit is collecting up the grass after it is cut.

A good diversity of wildflowers grows in the grassland sward in Whitby Cemetery.

This is the second year of us leaving a portion of the Larpool Cemetery to grow out for the summer – an area of older burials which do not need to be kept accessible to regular visitors to the graves. The relative sparsity of headstones in that section also lends itself to managing in a hay-cut fashion as it gives more options for the machinery one can try using. The parks department at Scarborough Borough Council, which maintains the cemetery has included this meadow management trial in a series of experimental changes to mowing regimes at sites across the borough.

The challenge for the council is that doing this effectively is that the collection and removal of cuttings is central for success. If otherwise left the bulky green material mulches back into the soil, favouring grasses over wildflowers. Unfortunately removing the long cut grass requires specialist machinery or a lot of manual labour.

Without the capability for fully mechanised cut and collect of such long swards it leaves us with a challenge. I’ve written about the complexities of local authority grassland management elsewhere on the blog in some detail and with useful links to further reading.

Huge thanks go to the dedicated volunteers who helped us with managing this wildflower meadow area in Whitby Cemetery by raking and bagging up for the parks vehicles to pick up and take away as green waste. Operatives were able to finish off cutting and clearing the remaining area afterward but 10 dedicated volunteers achieved a tremendous amount in the course of a few hours of toil.

Our parks team leader for the Whitby area was mightily impressed by the thorough job. They filled thirteen rammed-full builders’ dumpy bags with cuttings. We hope the meadow will respond well next season with a good show of flowers among the meadow grasses. The Whitby Nats are planning a wildflower walk for their members and volunteers to inspect it next spring. Fingers crossed.

This is a great example of community input to the council’s conservation management trials across the borough. Once the benefits of the extra effort are apparent – and the longer, less-tidy but more nature-friendly appearance of such sites is demonstrated to borough residents and visitors alike we hope to roll out the approach to more areas.

There are, of course, still challenges (again, as I’ve set out elsewhere). It is my hope that we can make a strong enough business case to invest in specialist cut and collect machines to do this at scale. Maybe with the local government re-organisation on the horizon (LGR announcement on BBC news website), there is a better chance to invest in such tech for the new unitary authority.


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Helping pollinators in the borough

Among wider aims to enhance biodiversity the Parks Department is very keen to support pollinator species in particular. We have to keep parks and green spaces looking their best with the resources we have available. Public opinion and perception always plays a part in the balance between a tidy appearance and allowing areas to develop to enhance biodiversity.

We have projects across the Borough which benefit pollinators and we continue to look for new areas where sympathetic management for pollinators can co-exist with our duty to maintain public realm to a high standard. This is always subject to resources eg staff, expertise and appropriate machinery.

We are increasingly developing community-led projects, eg harnessing expertise of local naturalist groups to survey, monitor and manage the most valuable areas.

The council’s radio-controlled mowing machine tackles a grassland slope in late summer.

Here are some examples of the types of measures: (full list further down)

Formal bedding and planting in parks. At least 25% of our seasonal bedding as pollinator-friendly plants. Across Filey, Whitby and Scarborough numerous examples traditional seasonal bedding replaced with bee and butterfly-friendly perennials. (See appendix).

Informal planting, parks and open spaces. Wildflower areas and tree planting for blossom diversity.

Roundabouts and street plantings. Perennials and wildflowers increasingly used when renovating.

Grass mowing regimes. Numerous places where we have introduced or are trialling reduced cutting regimes, including parks and open spaces, car parks, bankings, verges and cemeteries.

Dedicated wildflower areas and wildflower meadow schemes. Eg Cemeteries and Crematorium.

Cinder Track. Some existing habitat projects since 2018. Numerous opportunities to develop volunteer-led habitat management to benefit pollinators and other wildlife with new Ranger in post.

Yarrow grows on a coastal slope grassland is a great wildflower for pollinating insects

Sites in the Borough managed to benefit pollinators, (as of April 2021)

Filey

  • A decorative dahlia border is now a pollinator bed
  • Ravine Hill is now a pollinator bed
  • Former ‘shield bed’ in Northcliffe Gardens
  • A ‘bee border’ to be planted up 2021 with pollinators
  • Filey Flood Alleviation Scheme – cutting regime for bankings, swales and basins to consider pollinators; dedicated wildflower areas included in the scheme design.

Scarborough

  • Manor Road Roundabout – seasonal bedding replaced with permanent planting of pollinator-friendly perennials
  • Manor Road bankings – reduced mowing regime
  • Valley Road and Valley Gardens trialling reduced mowing regimes
  • A sown wildflower area in Woodlands Cemetery (‘Natural Burial Area’); small areas of wildflower turf trialled
  • Central bed in St. Nicholas Cliff gardens
  • Old rose beds in Woodlands Ravine to be turned over to pollinator friendly planting
  • Dean Road Cemetery beds and cutting regimes of grass areas under review
  • Peasholm Park – pollinator border planned
  • Burr Bank car park, reduced mowing regime of slope above car park
  • Burniston Road bankings – Signage to be installed for unmown area
  • South Cliff – project for enhancing the coastal grassland on Holbeck slope under discussion
  • Eastfield roundabout – trial sowing with wildflowers seed mix
  • Seamer Roundabout – seasonal bedding replaced with perennial planting

Whitby

  • Pannett Park bankings – grass left longer in season
  • New Bridge bankings  – grass left longer in season
  • Larpool cemetery area – trial ‘hay meadow’ management area, late cut and rake off
  • Abbey car park – banks and peripheral areas left long for the season to benefit wildlife

The Cinder Track, old railway line

  • Hawsker Sidings, wildflower grassland, autumn cut. Raked by volunteers.
  • Other areas of wildflower rich verges will be managed to enhance flora, now that we have a ranger to coordinate volunteers for the labour of annual cutting and raking. 
  • Tree planting for pollinators and wildlife, especially to support butterfly species including ‘Buckthorn for Brimstones’ and ‘Greening the Cinder Track’ projects in 2019/20 – both with Whitby Naturalists Club

Robin Hood’s Bay

  • Cliff slope habitat enhancement project in partnership with North York Moors National Park, Whitby Naturalists Club and Robin Hood’s Bay Tourism Association.

Updates to this list

This post is based upon a summary of activities drawn up in April 2021. The list served to inform elected members enquiring about our measures to benefit bees, butterflies and other pollinators. It is not exhaustive and new sites are being suggested all the time. I will make efforts to update the list periodically and indicate the date at the top of the post. For more information or to enquire about new sites please contact me.


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Call for Turtle Dove records

Submit your sightings

Have you seen Turtle Doves while out in the countryside this summer? Passing on the record to the right people can directly help with their conservation.

These summer visitors are very scarce nowadays, so it’s a red letter day if you have seen one. They can be mistaken for the much more ubiquitous Collared Dove, so I’ve included below some useful resources on identifying them.

Turtle Doves are usually very reclusive birds. You are more likely to hear one than see it. Their distinctive purring call is heard in the very early morning or sometimes evenings as well. If you are fortunate to live near one of the hotspots for these birds you may have been lucky enough to hear one in the quiet of dawn or dusk.

If you think you have encountered one, the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project would love to know when and where. Email conservation@northyorkmoors.org.uk to share any potential records, giving as much information as you can to help verify the record. It will help them to target future surveys and conservation efforts.

This Turtle Dove frequenting a rural garden was bolder than most. You are far more likely to hear one purring distantly in dense scrub than encounter one on a TV aerial! Image credit Alison Tubbs.

Summer visitors

Turtle Doves fly from Africa each spring to breed in and on the edge of the North Yorkshire Forests. Places covered by dawn surveys by dedicated volunteers include Dalby, Cropton and Harwood Dale Forests as well as parts of the Howardian Hills. A coordinated national survey has been taking place in summer 2021 too.

The species used to be more widespread in the UK in years gone by but nowadays is mainly confined to southern and eastern England. North Yorkshire supports a northern stronghold of around 50-100 birds

Some wildlife-lovers living in villages like Burniston, Lockton and Sawdon have reported them. Indeed there seem to be some individual birds or pairs which are more accustomed to gardens than your average Turtle Dove, which is normally very secretive.

The birds will be setting off on migration soon, back to sub-Saharan Africa. They are usually gone by the end of August or early September, not to return until May.

Confusion species

Turtle Doves are easily confused with the much more common Collared Dove, an abundant and vocal garden species.

Visually the Turtle Dove has a beautiful ‘tortoiseshell’ plumage on its wings, a striped neck pattern and in flight shows a striking black and white tail. In contrast its more common cousin is a plainer pink-grey with a black ‘collar’.

For recognising the call, listen to this snippet of video with the sound of a calling Turtle Dove. The Collared Dove’s cooing is more rasping and heard at any time of day.

Further resources

A YouTube film about the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project summarises the project made possible by National Lottery. This is about 7 mins and beautifully-made.

For a more comprehensive masterclass on separating Collared and Turtle Dove see this ID video from the BTO: BTO You Tube -Collared Dove vs Turtle Dove. (Also about 7mins).

Other posts on the blog about the Turtle Dove Project:

Post-Script – Announcing the launch of Year of the Dove

International efforts to raise awareness of the plight of Turtle Doves along their migration routes is the focus of Year of the Dove, a new international awareness and fundraising campaign.

On the continent many countries have a long tradition of hunting migratory birds and it is still legal to shoot Turtle Doves. Some countries, in response to campaigning have introduced moratoria or temporary bans on shooting Turtle Doves, but funds are needed to support European conservation groups with their research and campaigning. Read a blog post about it here: https://www.yorkshirecoastnature.co.uk/blog/461/year-of-the-dove-turtle-dove-international-campaign You can help by sharing the campaign widely on social media or with friends and contacts.


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Chalkshire – progress report

The Yorkshire Wolds is a special landscape, shaped by the chalk rock which underlies it and by the influence of human land use over thousands of years.

The ‘Chalkshire’ landscape initiative focuses on the UK’s most northerly chalk outcrop. Chalk underlies the Yorkshire Wolds and forms the ‘great white cape’ of Flamborough Head, creating special landscapes, habitats, and hydrology. A partnership started coming together in 2019, but has been in abeyance through the pandemic, now looking to pick up the pace again.

In an earlier blog post Talking Chalk I described how the concept came about and reported on about the launch conference for the initiative in 2019. Time has passed and despite a difficult 18mths for everyone some development and research has been taking place in the interim. A summary document on progress so far (report of work funded by Water Environment Improvement Fund) was circulated recently by Jon Traill, (Living Landscapes Manager at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust). If you wish to receive future information about ‘Chalkshire’ or ask how you can be involved, please contact Jon, and ask to be added to the email circulation. Jon.Traill@ywt.org.uk

Fertile, rolling farmland characterises much of the Yorkshire Wolds, incised by ‘dry valleys’.

Jon is keen to share the Chalkshire report widely and hear from new interested parties. I’ve included a link at the end of this post to download the report . A large number of organisations and individuals are already engaged with the project and Jon hopes to get things moving again in 2021-22 with help from key partners East Riding of Yorkshire Council and The Environment Agency.

There are exciting things to talk about as the Wolds landscape is getting a lot of attention lately – There is also group working towards a Geopark for East Yorkshire and recently an encouraging announcement from Natural England about designating the Yorkshire Wolds as a new Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

These initiatives for recognising, celebrating and securing the future of this under-appreciated landscape will inevitably have some common ground in their aims and will need to work together to make the best of the opportunities each offers.

The most northerly exposure of chalk in Britain forms the spectacular cliffs of Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire.


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Job opportunities

With a host of interesting nature and environmental jobs at the moment, check out the latest Connecting For Nature Opportunities. for a hand-picked selection.

In particular I’m keen to draw interest to the brand new Countryside Apprentice role at Scarborough Council’s Parks Dept, working alongside our recently appointed Cinder Track Maintenance Ranger, Anna Waite. (More on the blog soon.)

Anna has made a great start on the work needed to renovate and look after the old railway line track, but there is huge potential. We hope the new apprentice will not only shadow the Ranger on her maintenance work, but also play a part in us building our volunteering capacity and engaging with the local community and users of the track. There is lots of scope and it will be a rewarding role for an aspiring Countryside Ranger.

Aside from the apprenticeship, check out the other opportunities at SBC, RDC, NYMNP, NE and DWT….If you don’t know the acronyms? Well grab a cuppa and read more about the opportunities 🙂


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EarthDay 2021

Happy Earth Day!

If you are on social media today, check out the hashtags

#Earthday and #PlanetaryPromise to pledge a small change you will make to support the environment, tackle climate change, reduce waste, improve biodiversity etc.

Here’s a few quick #PlanetaryPromise ideas:

We can all do something.

Our everyday choices make a difference.

Have a great day.


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Looking out for Swifts

Deep blue skies over the back garden, anticipating the return of the Swifts for the summer.

Any day now, I’m expecting to hear the soul-lifting, overhead screech of Swifts, freshly returned from their marathon migration. I love Swifts and I’m not alone in that sentiment. There is something joyous and energetic about them, a certain magic in their always-on-the-wing lifestyle. Nesting is the only thing they land for, not to sleep, not to feed, not to mate! 

Enthusiasts all around the country form local Swift conservation groups. In our part of Yorkshire, Swift groups include Scarborough, Whitby, York and Helmsley. They promote the conservation of these birds and awareness of their needs to help this iconic and declining species to thrive. Groups coordinate keen volunteers to survey for Swifts and contribute their sightings. Some groups make wooden swift nest-boxes to put on suitable buildings, talk to property-owners in areas with Swift colonies or campaign for conservation measures in new build projects.

One of the wonderful things about Swifts is that they are closely associated with people and buildings, as much a bird seen screaming around tall city buildings as wheeling around villages and fields. A ‘screaming party’ of swifts screeching and chasing each other around roof-top level or lower on a summer’s evening indicates a colony nesting nearby.

Many sites are unwittingly lost as houses are re-roofed, renovated or demolished. Equally, new housing developments can incorporate special hollow bricks in suitable places so that swift nesting opportunities are built-in. ‘Swift bricks’, are a tried and tested solution to the Swift housing problem. Completely sealed off from the inside of the building, they need only have a small oval hole showing on the outside, through which the birds gain entry.

Traditional nest sites are tricky to spot. The bird lives up to its name and flies in so quickly, squeezing into a narrow hole to its hidden nest perhaps in the eaves of a house. You have to be very patient or fortunate to be watching the right place when it happens to bomb in with food or nesting material. If you are lucky enough to see a swift enter a possible nest site please do submit the sighting to a suitable recording scheme. (More at bottom of post.)

A precise point record, be it a grid reference or an address can be used by an ecological data centre to produce maps of hot-spots. These can help Local Authority planners or conservation agencies to target measures to help Swift populations. If we know where they are nesting we can ensure that nest sites are available into the future. To be useful, such maps of nest sites depend on good coverage of our towns and villages. That’s where you come in. If we can recruit Swift-spotters in every town, suburb or village we can help the Data Centre generate a comprehensive picture of where Swifts breed. In doing so we can inform Planning departments and community Swift groups where to particularly target conservation measures – Such as asking for Swift bricks in new housing developments or offering external Swift boxes to fix on to the outside of buildings close to existing colonies.

For me the truly exciting bit is that nearly everyone can contribute simply by walking around their local neighbourhood streets. You can soon establish if Swifts are present. Swifts very high in the sky or feeding over fields or water bodies may have travelled some way to feed, so its the screaming around buildings to look for which indicates breeding colonies. Screaming parties at roof-top level, suggest nest-sites in those buildings and are especially worth reporting. Even more valuable are observations of Swifts entering a building, eg disappearing under a roof tile, or behind fascias or soffit boards under the eaves. The best time to look for ‘screaming swifts’ is from late May to late July, around dusk on a warm, still evening, or early morning. 

Traditional Swift nest sites are more often found in the roofs of older housing stock, such as these Victorian terraces.

Having had initial conversations with colleagues in the Planning Department at Scarborough Borough Council, I know that we can make good use of this knowledge to inform better planning policy towards Swifts so these iconic sickle-winged summer visitors continue to thrive in our neighbourhoods for years to come. So join me and the other enthusiasts in looking out for Swifts. They will be back any day now and we can get started!

Useful Swifts resources:

National charity Swift Conservation is a great source of info on swifts, boxes, guidance for builders and home-owners.

Swift Awareness Week runs every year in late June – early July. This year it is 3rd -11th July. Maybe you could help raise awareness in your local community? Follow @swiftsweek and @saveourswifts on Twitter.

swiftslocalnetwork@googlegroups.com If you are really keen and want to set up your own group, talk to this national online community of local groups. For my area some more Twitter accounts to follow are @York_Swifts @HelmsleySwifts @WhitbySwifts

North East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre NEYEDC is the go-to repository for all biological records. All naturalists groups, bird clubs and swift groups can forward their collated records to the Data Centre. swifts@neyedc.org.uk 

Swift Mapper is a free smartphone app developed in partnership with the RSPB. It is handy for plotting Swift sightings or nest sites on the go. A user-friendly app like this makes it easy for a wider range of people to contribute, including non-specialists. Swift Mapper records can be retrieved by the Ecological Data Centre at the end of each season.

The important thing is to send your records somewhere, be it a Swift group, Swift Mapper or direct to the Data Centre.


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New scheme to manage car park for wildlife

Barn Owls use rough grassland to hunt mice and voles. This one was seen during lockdown hunting near to the car park.

Whitby Abbey attracts thousands of visitors a year and is served by a large car-park maintained by Scarborough Borough Council. This season a new grounds maintenance regime will be trialled there to help wildlife.

Scarborough Borough Council is keen to manage its public open spaces in ways that are more sympathetic for wildlife and people to co-exist. The Parks department is exploring options for a number of areas in the Borough and is keen to form stronger links with partners and community groups to manage public areas. The scheme for the Whitby Abbey car park is one such pilot project.

As well as hard standing there are grass banks and verges and an overflow parking area of rough grass. Great crested newts and other amphibians breed in the Abbey pond nearby and members of the local natural history group the Whitby Naturalists Club believe that some may hibernate in the dry-stone walls surrounding the car park. Newts have certainly been seen on occasions crossing the car park. During lockdown, a Barn Owl was seen using the fields around the car park to hunt for prey. A Skylark was heard singing over the rough grass only today, while operatives were carrying out management nearby, so this bodes well for the future co-existence of wildlife and visitors.

In liaison with Whitby Naturalists’ Club, the Parks and Countryside Service has developed proposals to improve the habitat opportunities for these creatures. A margin of longer grass will be left around the outer wall of the car park and on the banks between the parking areas, cut annually after summer season. This will allow more wildflowers to bloom, providing food for bees and butterflies as well as cover for smaller animals, including voles, which Barn Owls hunt.

The entrance and the areas used for parking and picnics will be mown regularly as usual so as not to inconvenience car park users. A small group of native trees has been planted in the corner of the car park too. Whitby Naturalists’ Club will monitor the plants and animals using the area, and help clear the long grass when it is cut at the end of the season. 

The summer overflow area of the car park will still be mown, with banks left longer for invertebrates and other animals.

The Council’s Ecologist, Tim Burkinshaw said “We are keen to see more initiatives like this, where a more enlightened approach can be taken to managing public areas in the Council’s care. Far from compromising the use-ability of these spaces to the public and visitors, we think that it will add to their enjoyment to see more wildflowers, pollinating insects and even, if they are lucky, iconic animals like Great Crested Newts and Barn Owls.”

Tim continued, “The link with Whitby Naturalists’ Club is valuable and very welcome, enabling us to do things which resources otherwise would not permit, such as monitoring the wildlife and helping with the seasonal habitat management. It’s a win-win”

Councillor Linda Wild, Town Mayor of Whitby helped with some tree planting recently, saying

“I was delighted to offer my personal support to this project by planting one of the trees.  It is a wonderful collaboration between the Borough Council and the Whitby Naturalists.  It’s such a simple and effective way to promote the environment and encourage wildlife.  At this month’s Town Council meeting, I reported on the tree planting.  I’m pleased to say there was unanimous support for this initiative.”

A corner of the car park planted with native trees and where grass will be allowed to grow longer for wildlife

The Parks department is planning to place small signs in places where the grass is left to grow longer, pointing out the benefits to wildlife. Cutting and removing the long grass after wildflowers have set seed should, in time, reduce the fertility of the soil and favour an increase in the wildflowers amongst the grasses. Monitoring over a number of years will hopefully track a gradual improvement in biodiversity, but changes should be apparent from this summer, with more bugs and butterflies enjoying the habitat areas.


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Reducing seal disturbance on the Yorkshire Coast

The Yorkshire Seals Group works hard to protect and conserve our two resident species of seals along our coastline, Common Seal and Grey Seal. Recently they have arranged for Seal Alliance code of conduct signs to be placed at key spots where visitors may come into proximity with wild seals and pose a risk to the animals’ welfare as well as to the humans. These are wild creatures and protective of their young and have sharp teeth!

Seals can be encountered along our coastline, both onshore and on the water but they are very susceptible to disturbance. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is definitely a need to raise awareness and educate visitors. Often people get too close, perhaps to photograph them, unaware of the impacts of their behaviour on the health and welfare of the seals. A seal colony near Ravenscar in particular has seen ill-informed visitors approaching the seals and causing distress to the animals.

The Yorkshire Seals team of nearly 30 members has been heavily active along the Yorkshire coast over the recent winter pupping season. Their continuous presence for 90 straight days on-site at Ravenscar over November-January resulted in a great improvement compared to the previous season, mitigating human disturbance on-site thorough awareness-raising.

The team positively engaged with over 5000 visitors, despite lockdown or tiered restrictions on travel (affecting both visitors and volunteers). Their presence helped support a higher pup success rate, higher weaning weight and prevented the human-attributed pup mortality seen at Ravenscar in the 2019/2020 season. Footfall is expected to increase dramatically at all Yorkshire monitoring sites as social distancing restrictions ease.

A collective of seal conservation organisations around the UK came together to produce the Watching Seals Well tips.

Signs explaining the impacts of irresponsible behaviour are already up at Ravenscar in partnership with the North York Moors Park and National Trust. A second batch should be ready soon, hopefully to go up at Flamborough, Filey, and Cayton Bay. Messages are simple and easy to understand, emphasising the need to keep a safe distance (which is much greater than most people imagine) and to be aware of the signs that the animals’ natural behaviour is affected.

The Yorkshire Seal Group and has worked with the Seal Alliance on the Code of Conduct for seal disturbance. Approved by DEFRA, it is the first UK-wide code of conduct for seals and gives the public guidelines for responsible seal watching. There are plans to install further information signs at Filey at both the Coble Landing (Arndale Ravine) and Carr Naze (top of the Country Park).

For further information on any of the group’s activities or their seal monitoring findings visit their website at www.yorkshireseals.org. They have data from two main sites on populations, disturbance events, pupping, entanglements and welfare interventions etc. You can also email yorkshireseals@gmail.com


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Seabird monitoring in a pandemic

The chalk cliffs of the Flamborough Headland range in height from about 30 feet, here at Selwick’s Bay to a dizzying 300 feet at Bempton. Photo by Cu00e1tia Matos on Pexels.com

The Yorkshire Coast is re-knowned for its colonies of breeding seabirds. The Flamborough and Filey Coast Special Protection Area for Birds revolves around the important numbers of Kittiwake, Gannet, Guillemot and Razorbill, plus associated species which make up the seabird assemblage (ie also Puffin, Fulmar, Shag etc).

In normal times (when we are not battling a pandemic) a big team of seabird monitoring volunteers, marshalled by a Research Assistant based at RSPB Bempton Cliffs Reserve does sterling work counting birds, nests and chicks, to derive both overall population estimates and ‘productivity’ (ie breeding success). With a colony located on sheer inaccessible cliff faces, you can imagine the scale of the challenge even in ordinary circumstances.

Despite the significant challenge of Coronavirus restrictions on volunteer-based surveys, the Bempton team managed to conduct a reduced programme of monitoring in 2020, adding to a growing body of scientific data. Full colony surveys were not possible, but sampled ‘plots’ on the cliffs were monitored to assess eggs and chicks and fledging. This provides vital productivity data which means whether the birds successfully raising young (eg offspring per pair) as opposed to knowing the total population.

It is hoped, that with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions a good survey programme can again be carried out in 2021. A summary of the 2020 findings is reproduced in this post. First, an aside on the practicalities of observations.

Gannets build obvious nests, spaced a beak’s-reach apart, so are one of the easier seabirds to monitor nests and chicks. Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

For some species one can count active nests and fledged chicks with some confidence, so the unit is ‘Apparently Occupied Nests’ (AON). Gannets, Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls, for example, build quite obvious nests. For other species like Guillemots and Razorbills (without a nest, just laying eggs on ledges) ‘Apparently Occupied Sites’ (AOS) are counted. Merely counting the total and dividing by two might seem a useful shortcut for estimating pairs, but non-breeding adults confuse the picture. Failed nesting attempts or ‘cryptic’ nest sites (that means hard to see nest sites – such as Puffins in burrows or openings in the cliff) also add to the challenge of obtaining accurate population counts.

Here are some takeaways (reproduced, with permission) from the 2020 annual seabird monitoring report for the SPA:

“2020 has been an unprecedented year for everyone, and the Flamborough and Filey Coast SPA Seabird Monitoring Programme did not escape the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. With a two-month lockdown in place throughout England during peak egg laying and incubation for many species, it was hard to imagine how the monitoring programme could be salvaged. Fortunately, restrictions eased in late May and a much reduced programme of monitoring was commenced with a small monitoring team, following strict safety guidelines.”


“The limited 2020 Seabird Monitoring Programme was successfully completed by a full-time Seabird Research volunteer and a small number of Bempton Cliffs reserve staff and volunteers. Monitoring began in late May just as auks were starting to hatch, with one Guillemot chick and one Razorbill chick present on the first visits on 29 May. Auk productivity monitoring followed an identical methodology to previous years once started, with visits every third day to check for the presence and absence of eggs and chicks.”

Productivity results were as follows:
• Fulmar – a mean plot productivity of 0.52 chicks per apparently occupied site. (27 pairs monitored across 3 plots from which 13 chicks fledged.)
• Gannet – a mean plot productivity of 0.80 chicks per apparently occupied nest. (266 nests monitored across 5 plots from which 213 chicks fledged.)
• Kittiwake – a mean plot productivity of 0.61 chicks per apparently occupied nest. (363 nests monitored across 7 plots from which 222 chicks fledged.)
• Herring Gull – a mean plot productivity of 0.61 chicks per apparently occupied nest. (69 nests monitored across 5 plots from which 35 chicks fledged.)
• Guillemot – a mean plot productivity of 0.55 chicks per apparently occupied site. (245 pairs monitored across 4 plots from which 134 chicks fledged.)
• Razorbill – a mean plot productivity of 0.58 chicks per apparently occupied site. (224 pairs monitored across 4 plots from which 130 chicks fledged.)

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South Landing, Flamborough.