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litter on the beach

We’ve just launched a new guide for making sure beach cleans minimise disturbance to wildlife.

Ranger Julie, who led the project, explains what it’s all about.

You’ve arrived at the beach, thermos flask in hand, ready for your much deserved nature break.  There is something about the coast that just makes you happy. You take a deep breath of the fresh morning air and start walking. But wait, what’s that? Oh no, the weekend crowds have left behind litter.  What a pain. Such a spoiler. Never mind, you make a mental note to join a local litter pick group to help sort it. After all it will be nice to give something back to nature. At the time it doesn’t occur to you that a coastal litter pick can disturb wildlife. Oh wait, what?

Sanderling with litter

The Dream Team

Never fear, the team at Bird Aware Solent have thought of that, after all it’s what we do. A few months back we contacted some local beach clean organisations, and it quickly became clear they were very keen to ensure beach cleans didn’t disturb coastal wildlife. It also became clear there was a lack guidance. And thus, a plan was hatched, and the dream team was born.

Over the past few months, Bird Aware Solent have been working with the 2 Minute Foundation, Marine Conservation Society UK (MCSUK), and Final Straw Foundation to create, drumroll please…the Wildlife Aware Beach Clean Code.

It comes complete with a version for group leaders and another for beach clean participants.

Beach clean organisation logos
A discarded car tyre: large litter as habitat
Litter picker

New guidance

This new guidance encourages everyone to follow the Coastal Code and teaches about what beach cleaners can do to help wildlife thrive.

For example, large pieces of rubbish like tires and old pallets may have become habitat for plants and tiny animals well hidden inside crevices.

It also points out that the strand line (high-water mark) is an important hiding place for small creatures and a rich feeding area for birds.

Beach cleaners are therefore encouraged to look for birds before they head to the water’s edge, and to walk beside rather than on strandline material.

 

Seals

The new wildlife aware code also makes a special mention of seals and their breading/pupping season (June to August for common seals and November to January for grey seals). Seals are particularly vulnerable to human presence at this time because pups can become separated from parents in a panic to get back in the water.

Seal

Broken wing display

While researching for this project I learned some super interesting things. For example, did you know that some ground nesting birds will sometimes pretend to have a broken wing when people or dogs get too close? They will literally stick their wing out to the side and hop or walk away from their nest. The idea is that the ‘predator’ will think it’s a sitting duck (pun intended) and follow it. It continues to do this until it’s far enough away from the nest, at which point it flies off.

It’s called a ‘broken wing display’ and it’s a mechanism some birds have evolved to draw predators away from their nests, which after all is just sitting on the ground, sometimes with nothing but a bit of camouflage to keep it safe. The ringed plover has been known to display in this way.

By the way, if you ever witness this display, you are waaaay too close to a nest and that bird is extremely stressed. Turn around and retrace your steps slowly and carefully while watching where you place each foot. But I digress. Just so easy to get distracted by our clever birds.

I am delighted to have been part of this important work to help bring this resource to life. It was a pleasure to work collaboratively with some really swell people who care deeply about nature. The Wildlife Aware Beach Clean resources will now be used by Bird Aware, the 2 minute foundation, MCSUK and Final Straw to let eager volunteers know how to protect wildlife while keeping our coast free from litter.  And Bird Aware Solent will continue to promote this new resource to individuals and organizations far and wide.

Next time you are out on a coastal walk, take a deep breath of that sea air and remember all those who, like you, care about nature and want to do all they can to protect it. And of course, remember to #shareourshores with wildlife.

Ranger Julie

A beautiful Solent beach at sunset

To find out more, visit our Wildlife aware beach cleans page.