Oystercatchers and shellfish

Back in the winter of 1992/93 Wash Group members noticed far more Oystercatchers than usual were feeding inland – on grass verges, in the middle of roundabouts and on the lawn at Sandringham. The Oystercatchers we caught had stopped moulting part way through, presumably to preserve energy and we found many hundreds of corpses on the shore. This led to an investigation of what had happened and, of course, the answer was complicated – but WWRG data helped to unravel the mystery. The Oystercatchers had encountered a ‘perfect storm’ of unusually cold weather combined with low stocks of both Mussels and Cockles – the preferred food of many of them – and a popular human food as well. Work with BTO, Eastern Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (EIFCA, then the Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee), the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and Richard Stillman at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), showed the importance of balancing numbers of shellfish taken by the fishermen and the birds to ensure that there were sufficient for both as well as maintaining a breeding stock of shellfish, so that the supply continues. Understanding these balances, what might change them and how to react to changes (Adaptive Harvest Management) is a vital part of managing fisheries.

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Fieldwork September 2021

Monday 6 September

On Monday the team started to gather properly around lunch time as plans had been made to try for a catch of Grey Plover at Gedney that evening. Cathy had been at the Norfolk base for a couple of days so the house was well set up and ready for everyone to arrive, which soon included Tim, and they got the ‘party tent’ up and ready outside. Katharine arrived next followed by Caroline and Hilary and soon Steve, Alex, Luke, Sarah and Chris were also there. Tents were put up by those who needed them and a baked potato lunch was well appreciated by all (thank you Cathy!). The net set was sorted out for the evening’s catch and, once Sabine arrived, the team headed off to Gedney around 2.20 pm meeting Richard, Ryan and Lizzie there. The single net was set out on the pool identified at the previous Wash week and soon the team was waiting under a tarp for the tide to bring the birds in. Sadly the birds just weren’t quite settled and, with the tide in, the team had to give up for the day and headed home to dinner. During dinner it was confirmed that the licensees thought it was worth a second try at Gedney in the morning so soon everyone headed to bed.

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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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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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