Fieldwork August 2021

Saturday 21 August

The team started to arrive around midday with Cathy being the first with Katharine soon after (to claim the best tent spots), soon followed by Nigel, Jacquie, Sam and Skye. Once tents were up and rooms claimed, the first action was to get the ‘party tent’ up outside on the patio. The marquee had been borrowed to allow for an extra covered space outside and it neatly fitted in the gap between the buildings. A little later Barrie, Ian, Rob and Kirsty arrived for lunch and initial plans for the week started to be made, beginning with recces in the afternoon at several sites to get the lay of the land wader-wise. Sam and Ian went to Snettisham, Katharine and Barrie to Ken Hill, Kirsty and Nigel to Gedney and Rob and Jacquie to Heacham North North.

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Is climate change affecting Wash waders?

As CoP26 (the 26th annual Conference of Parties signed up to the UN’s Convention on Climate Change) gets underway in Glasgow, all eyes are on the global response to climate changes and whether national governments can come together to reduce global Carbon emissions sufficiently to avert some of the frightening effects predicted of ‘Business as Usual’. With most world leaders and tens of thousands of delegates discussing everything from atmospheric physics to social justice, such gatherings can seem a world away from the tranquil vistas of The Wash. But already we are seeing the effects of climate change, and the data archives of the Group, as well as research by Wash Group members has been vital in documenting these.

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Wash wader research on Autumnwatch

Normally when people hear what time we get up to set and man our nets they look rather bemused and think of their warm beds. So it was great to welcome a crew from Autumnwatch, who joined us in during our October 2021 fieldwork to find out about our research on waders using The Wash. The crew came out with us early on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning when our target was Sanderling, one of our 11 study species, which we were able to catch.

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Using data to make a difference

Birth, and copulation, and death.
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks:
Birth, and copulation, and death.
I’ve been born, and once is enough.

Although not involved in bird study, these lines from T. S. Eliot encapsulate our current studies of wader populations on The Wash. Bird populations are sustained by recruitment of fledged young into the adult population at an equal rate to the death of individual adults. More recruitment than deaths equals more birds. Unfortunately, the opposite is currently occurring in Eurasian Curlew, which is experiencing population decline. This could be due to not enough chicks being raised to adulthood from each nesting attempt, or alternatively, it could be due to increased death of adult birds. Knowing which factor is more important allows conservation efforts to be prioritised: do we need to protect Curlew nests to improve chick survival or do we need to enhance protection of wintering Curlew to improve adult survival? A recently published paper has explored one part of the equation – survival in Curlew – using data from The Wash, as well as other wader ringers around Britain and Ireland.

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Where in the mud?

The Wash is a special place. Fed by four rivers (the Great Ouse, Nene, Welland and Witham), it is one of Britain’s largest estuarine systems and home to a rich range of wildlife. In excess of half a million birds visit each year, either passing through on migration or spending the winter feeding on its extensive mudflats. It also supports a wide variety of human activities, from tourism to fisheries. Understanding where and how the birds use this vast larder is critical to designing effective ways of managing the estuary and its resources sustainably.

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