Monday, 23 December 2013

The flooding of Blakeney Freshes

Two weeks on from the extreme tidal surges that battered much of the eastern coast of the UK, National Trust rangers and specialist conservation teams have been making progress on the long road to recovery.

Blakeney freshes flooding 9 12 2013-087_1
(Photo courtesy of Mike Page)

National Trust properties were amongst the many on the North Norfolk coast to take the brunt of the tidal surge. This week we caught up with Helen Dangerfield, Head of Conservation at the National Trust in the East of England to get an update…

Severe damage was caused to buildings in Brancaster and on Blakeney Point, as well as extensive flooding of land, including the Blakeney Freshes.

In Brancaster, the Activity Centre was flooded. It has now been emptied of all its contents and the first stages of drying out and repair are being planned.

On Blakeney Point, National Trust ranger teams and volunteers have started making progress on the clear up operation, with repairs being started on the boardwalk that protects the sand-dunes and a clean-up of the iconic lifeboat house is due to get underway once essential safety checks have been completed.

Flooding of Blakeney Freshes has presented the most complex issues after the sea defences were breached in several places, resulting in saltwater flooding these freshwater marshes. We have been closely monitoring the drainage of saltwater off the marshes and have been working with the Environment Agency to find solutions to get the Southern Sluice back into operation.
With further high tides predicted for the new year, it is essential that a viable long-term solution to the management of the marshes is found, and we will be meeting with the Environment Agency and Natural England to review the impacts of flooding as well as working with local stakeholders.

It is essential that any planned works balance both the environmental and wildlife needs of this site, together with an understanding of the potential impacts of future high tides. Further meetings are already planned with the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust as we consider the options at Cley, Salthouse and Blakeney.

Friday, 13 December 2013

One week on: Tidal storm’s aftermath on Norfolk’s coastline

One week on from the extreme tidal surge that battered the eastern coast of the UK, our team has been hard at work assessing the damage.

Photo courtesy of CamroVision Photography

In the East of England, many of our properties were affected by the tidal surge, from high tides at Essex coastal properties such as Northey Island and Pin Mill to surges that flooded the marshes at Orford Ness and shifted huge amounts of shingle at Dunwich Heath in Suffolk.

But by far the worst hit area in our region was the whole of the North Norfolk coast. At Brancaster Activity Centre, the team found the whole centre was flooded with 18 inches of water, despite flood defences being in place.

Brancaster Beach has also seen dramatic impact, with sand dunes being completely swept away and the toilet building being submerged in five feet of water.

 Photo courtesy of CamroVision Photography

There was huge concern about the seal colony at Blakeney Point and how they would be affected by the surges in the middle of pupping season. There was a tense wait for our team, who had to wait until Saturday to be able to access the point and assess the 1000-strong colony.

So it was with great happiness they were able to report the colony had survived the surge – although they were scattered far and wide around the sand dunes.

Victoria Egan, our Countryside Manager for the North Norfolk Coast, took some time to talk about the impacts of the tidal surge on the whole area, and of course, those seals that have attracted so much attention. WATCH THE VIDEO of the damage caused by the aftermath of the storm.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Update on the seal colony at Blakeney Point

After a full day spent assessing the impact of the December 5 tidal surge on the North Norfolk coast, our rangers have finally been able to get a full picture about how the seal colony at Blakeney Point has fared. 

The large colony, which breeds at Blakeney Point each year, reaches in excess of 1000 seals and pups, from November to January.

It is with great relief that the ranger team discovered the vast majority of the colony survived the extreme tidal surge. There had been fears that many of the young pups, which can’t swim or survive without their mother’s milk until they have shed their distinctive white fur, would have been displaced from the colony or have lost their lives.

However, it would appear that the majority of seals and pups were able to reach higher ground on the sand dunes and escape the worst of the surge.

The National Trust cares for large areas of the North Norfolk coast, including the Blakeney Point Lifeboat House. Damage has been caused to the Lifeboat House and surrounding buildings and a full assessment will now need to take place.

Victoria Egan, Countryside Manager for the Norfolk Coast said:

“So many people have been badly affected by the tidal surge and have lost homes and possessions. Amidst this, we have been touched by the concern that has been shown for the seal colony. We hope people will join us in being delighted that the majority of these resilient creatures survived and we hope to be able to carry out a full count in the coming days.
“Of course, many of the seals will have been displaced from the colony and we know a number of people have spotted them. We strongly urge anyone who sees a seal or pup to please stay well away from them, they are wild animals and must be allowed to behave in their natural way. The mothers will search for their pups, but not if people are around them.
“Having survived such terrible weather conditions, any human intervention now could have dire consequences, no matter how well intentioned.”

Our team is working closely with the East Winch RSPCA. Our rangers and RSPCA officers are experienced in working with seals are able to assess them on a case by case basis. East Winch RSPCA hospital is currently caring for a large number of seals, birds and injured wildlife. Anyone finding a seal is urged to only make contact with the RSPCA if it is injured or visibly in distress, otherwise, please keep your distance.

The RSPCA telephone number for emergency use only is 0300 1234 999.

Storm's aftermath on Norfolk's coastline

The ranger team here is today once again assessing the impact of the tidal surge and storms that hit much of the east coast of the UK on December 5. We've been working during daylight hours to gather a full picture of the damage caused, from Brancaster to Salthouse.

The National Trust cares for large areas of the North Norfolk coast, including Blakeney Point and its Lifeboat House. On Friday, the team were unable to reach Blakeney Point, due to the extensive damage to footpaths, bridges and shingle.

Today, Saturday December 7, the team have been able to access Blakeney Point and have found damage to the Lifeboat House and surrounding buildings.

As those who follow our blog know, during the winter months, the sand dunes are home to a large colony of breeding seals. We are aware that many of you have expressed concern for the seals at Blakeney and our team, who spend many hours each year monitoring them, share that concern.

At this time it is not possible to know the number of seals and pups that may have been affected by the tidal surge. Many of the pups and their mothers have moved inland and are scattered amongst the sand dunes. It is absolutely vital that we leave them alone at this time so they can continue to feed and bond in safety and uninterrupted.

Some pups will have been displaced from Blakeney Point, although there is a strong chance that many of them will return to shore elsewhere on the coast. Again, it is absolutely vital the pups are left alone in order for their mothers to find them.

We strongly urge that if visitors to the Norfolk Coast come across any seals or pups in the aftermath of the tidal surge, please, do not attempt to move them or encourage them to return to the sea. The pups are safer on land until they shed their distinctive white fur.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Tidal storm surge expected

Severe tidal surges are predicted along many parts of the east coast during the evening of December 5, with the North Norfolk coast predicted to experience some of the highest tides.

Some buildings at Blakeney, Brancaster and Horsey are at risk of flooding and we will be working closely with a number of individuals and organisations including Parish councils and boat operators as we prepare for the tides and in surveying the impact on land, the coastline and affected buildings afterwards.

All visitors were advised to vacate car parks along the coasts at Blakeney, Morston and at Brancaster by 3pm today.

If visitors to the Norfolk Coast come across any seals or pups in the aftermath of the tidal surge, please, do not attempt to move them or encourage them to return to the sea. The pups are safer on land until they shed their distinctive white fur.
The seals are wild animals and it is highly likely that any pups separated from the colony will be found by their mothers.

Our coastal rangers are experienced in monitoring the seal colony and will be surveying the situation once the tides have receded.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

24th of November: Catching up

The breeding Grey Seal colony (rookery) on Blakeney Point appeared in autumn 2001. The occasional pup had been recorded previously, for example on the landing ridge in the 1990s. But it was in 2001 that the rookery first developed, with 25 pups born. This doubled the following winter and had doubled again to 100 two years later. Numbers have continued to increase every year.

This autumn, for the first time counts seemed to be lagging behind the previous year. Counts last week were typically about 50 less than the same date last year. This may be because the pupping season started a few days later than normal.

2012 pup count
2013 pup count
27th Oct
29th Oct
30th Oct
7th Nov
13th Nov
14th Nov
19th Nov

However, numbers have started to accelerate over the past few days, with 105 pups born between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon. We seem to have finally caught up with last year's figures and may well be about to overtake them. Only time will tell.

2012 pup count
2013 pup count
20th Nov

21st Nov

22nd Nov

23rd Nov

24th Nov

28th Nov
Watch this space

We are now reaching the point where the first born pups of the season have shed their white fur, and some cows are starting to look noticeably thin. Having been fed on their mother's rich milk for three weeks, the older pups are being left to their own devices. The time has come for them to go into the sea and find food for themselves.
A plump pup that will soon be swimming

National Trust volunteer and student, Olivia Berry, recently spent an hour taking photographs from the edge of the rookery. She was careful not to cause any disturbance and captured some great pictures.

With such large numbers of seals at the western end of the Point, it is important not to walk amongst them. Nobody wants to be bitten by a seal or cause a pup to get crushed by an adult. Great views from a safe distance are possible from the end of the boardwalk, old Tern Hide and "Sea Hide". Please refer to signage and do not cross the fenceline.
It is not only seals that have caused excitement this week. At about 3.30pm on Monday (the 18th), Paul saw a Yellow-breasted Bunting in the garden. This is a great record for Blakeney Point. These buntings are summer visitors to Europe, spending winter in southeast Asia, they are a real rarity in Britain (the only other British record this year was on the Farne Islands, in early September, they currently have 1,336 Grey Seal pups). Unfortunately, its stay was brief and hopeful birdwatchers walking up early the next morning were sadly unlucky.

Flocks of Snow Buntings are seen every day on the Point at the moment, a peak of 85 were recorded earlier this week.
Snow Buntings at sunset

A female Blackcap was seen on Monday and two Chiffchaffs in the Plantation on Friday. Six Twite were reported on Friday.

On Thursday a group of noisy Herring Gulls were seen above the beach marauding a lone Starling. One made a grab for it and caught it, then a squabble broke out. The poor Starling was dropped into the water and then caught again. Other interesting Herring Gull behaviour has been witnessed amongst the rookery. There are a couple of juveniles with injured wings that spend their time walking around feeding on seal after-birth, one of them has been present for well over a week now, clearly finding plenty to eat without the aid of flight to find food. It is not just gulls that have been seen feeding on after-birth, on Friday a Sanderling was seen happily feeding a few inches from a newborn pup...
(Photograph by Graham Lubbock)

During this afternoon's count, two pups were both seen trying to suckle from the same cow at the same time...

- Ajay Tegala, Coastal Ranger

Sunday, 17 November 2013

17th of November: 'shrooms in the dunes

On Wednesday Tony Leech, Norfolk's fungi county recorder, spent a few hours on the Point with us. We recorded a variety of different species of varying size, shape and colour...

Dune Waxcap - there are a number of these on the Point, including some near the boardwalk. The bright red cap stands out amongst surrounding vegetation.
 We found a small number of Dune Stinkhorns - the caps are initially covered with a smelly coating that attracts insects, which distribute its spores. Dune Stinkhorn is however not as stinky as other stinkhorns.

Amongst the sand there were a number of Agaricus devoniensis, the 'sand dune mushroom'.

One of the most abundant species we encountered was the False Chanterelle.

Whilst looking at fungi, we stumbled across a very late Red Admiral butterfly near the Plantation, and also a Goldcrest.
Goldcrest in the pine

On Monday there was a big arrival of thrushes. It was wonderful to witness migration in action. Throughout the day a total of 2740 Blackbirds flew in off the sea, most of them didn't land but continued flying onto the mainland, by midday Blakeney's bushes were buzzing with Blackbirds. Some 520 Fieldfares, 226 Song Thrushes and 380 Redwings were also recorded on the Point as well as 500 Starlings and 262 Lapwings. Monday also saw the arrival of three Goldeneyes, the first record for this winter.

Throughout the course of the week, Grey Seal pup numbers more than trebled:

Number of pups
Monday 11th of November
Tuesday 12th of November
Wednesday 13th of November
Thursday 14th of November
Friday 15th of November
Saturday 16th of November
Sunday 17th of November

The seals have spread much further east and so have our access restrictions. Please respect all signage and fencelines. The best place for walkers to see seals is the end of the boardwalk, but please do not cross the fenceline to prevent disturbing the seals and putting yourself at risk.
Thank you,
Ajay and Paul

Sunday, 10 November 2013

10th of November: Seal Diary

This November, Seasonal Ranger Paul Nichols is staying on as a volunteer and continuing to live in the Lifeboat House. As well as keeping the visitor facilities open and leading guided walks, he is out and about observing wildlife and carefully monitoring the breeding Grey Seal colony (rookery) on a day-to-day basis. Not everyone would want to be on such a remote part of the coast in November, but Paul is in his element. He has been keeping notes on the seals, birds and other wildlife.

Paul writing in the wildlife diary (EDP, 2011)

Saturday 2nd of November
Two pups on Far Point this morning, witnessed a stillbirth at 11am - very sad
30 Fieldfares flew over
10 Goldfinches on the shingle ridge feeding on Curled Dock seeds
Found remains of Woodcock that had just been killed by a Marsh Harrier
Black Redstart in the garden 

Sunday 3rd of November 
Now three pups on the beach, a few adults moving into the dunes
A few Pink-footed Geese flew over
Black Redstart still in garden
26 Snow Buntings on beach west of Sea Hide
Monday 4th of November 
8 pups this morning and at least a dozen adults now in the dunes
Harvest mouse nest found on tideline
40 Redwings came in this afternoon and a Chiffchaff appeared on Middle Point
Put phase one fencing up as far as the gap (see below)
Big old tide this evening, almost up to the Lifeboat House steps 

New-born pup

Tuesday 5th of November 
One more pup born overnight, total of 9
Lots of thrushes today: 700 Blackbirds, 1200 Redwings, 400 Fieldfares, 200 Song Thrushes
Also 1500 Starlings
Fantastic array of fungi on the Point at the moment, many different species
Cow and pup 

Wednesday 6th of November 
13 pups and lots more adults in dunes
Grey Seal seen taking Wigeon off the sea!
Report of a first winter Glaucous Gull
Flock of 48 Snow Buntings - magical sight
Bull, cow and newborn pup 

Thursday 7th of November 
Strong winds last night
Big increase to 29 pups today
Raptors: 2 Marsh Harriers, male Peregrine, female Merlin, male Sparrowhawk

Pup suckling

Friday 8th of November 
Now 41 pups, spreading further east along beach
Smart-looking male Stonechat in the garden
WeBS count included 389 Brent Geese and 750 Wigeon

Brent Geese in Stanley's Cockle Bight 

Saturday 9th of November 
68 pups: 17 on saltmarsh, 46 on beach, 5 in the dunes
Slightly scraggy Short-eared Owl in the main dunes
8 Rock Pipits on edge of water in New Glaux Low
Great to see Aylmerton on the Point and crossing the Glaven with a school group
Wonderful light in the late afternoon 

Seals spreading east along the beach

Sunday 10th of November 
95 pups this afternoon, including one east of the gap fenceline
Watched Peregrine take a Redshank on saltmarsh opposite Lifeboat House
Flock of 50+ Snow Buntings on Far Point
Also 6 Lapland Buntings and 2 Shorelarks
Watched the Blakeney firework display from the Lifeboat House steps
Flock of Snow Buntings

Graph showing pup counts to date

As mentioned above, the first phase of fencing has been put up, restricting access to the beach and dunes west of the gap, like during the breeding bird season. This fencing is in place to protect the seals, please do not cross the fencelines for your own safety. As more seals are moving onto the beach east of the gap towards the Sea Hide, we will be extending the fenceline over the next week. The best way to see the seals is by the ferries that go from Morston Quay. There are also a few spaces on our guided seal pup tour on the 7th of December, for booking and information click here.
In other news, we have just contributed a post to the River Glaven Conservation Group blog.

Also, did you know we have just opened a new National Trust holiday cottage in Blakeney? For booking and information click here.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

31st of October: First Seal Pup

As viewers of BBC Autumnwatch will already have learned last night, the first Grey Seal pup of this autumn has been born on Blakeney Point. It was found yesterday (30th of October) and here it is:
Photography by Paul Nichols
(who was careful not to disturb the pup)

The story of the first pup was covered in this article in the Eastern Daily press.

Throughout November and December more and more pups will be born. Last winter the total was 1,223. Follow our blog to stay up to date with the pupping period as it progresses.

Last week we saw a tagged bull Grey Seal on the Point, which we reported to the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland. It turns out he was rescued from Newcastle as a juvenile last December and named 'King Tut'. The RSPCA East Winch wildlife centre then released him at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire this July.

In other news, Ajay is currently featured on the East of England Conservation blog.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

26th of October: Sick Spoonbill, Swift surprise and "Where is the Wren?"

We have been involved in a couple of bird rescues on the reserve this week. The first was this juvenile Brent Goose found in Stanley's Cockle Bight on Tuesday. It appeared unable to fly and could barely run without falling over. We took it off the Point and sent it to the RSPCA East Winch wildlife centre.

The second rescue was a bit more unexpected. On Wednesday a sick Spoonbill was reported on Morston Marsh. We found it in a creek and picked it up. George then took it to East Winch. The bird was a juvenile, it was clearly in a bad way and felt very thin. It is highly unlikely that this year's juveniles from mainland Europe would have reached Norfolk yet. Therefore this bird was more than likely from the only UK breeding colony, just a few miles west at Holkham, where 18 young fledged this summer. The last one fledged less than two months ago.
George to the rescue (Graham Lubbock)

Unfortunately the Spoonbill had to be put to sleep because it had a fractured shoulder. This was perhaps the result of a collision. We are sad that the bird didn't make it, but at least we did all we could for it.

Although we are well into the second half of October, temperatures have been mild with several sunny intervals. This morning a Painted Lady butterfly was seen in the dunes. There are still a number of plants in flower, adding little specks of bright colour to the sand dunes: yellow Ragwort and Cat's-ears, pink Stork's-bill and white Sea Campion.

Even the 101 year old Yukka is in flower.

On the seal front, we are waiting for them to start moving up into the dunes to give birth. Over the last week, numbers hauled out on the sand at low tide have decreased. This is because many seals are out at sea having one last feed prior to pupping. It's certainly no time to be a fish!

Grey Seal pupping starts in the southwest in late summer and works its way clockwise around the the coast reaching Norfolk in late October. The Farne Islands, up in Northumberland, had their first pup on the 27th of September. We are expecting the first pup to be born on Blakeney Point any day now, so watch this space.

Our October wetland bird count recorded 1,877 Wigeon. Other birds recorded on the Point included a Purple Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Red-breasted Merganser, 250 Grey Plovers, 550+ Pink-footed Geese flying east and 18 Common Scoters over the sea. On Tuesday four Shore Larks came in off the sea, the first of this autumn. These splendid-looking birds have yellow faces with striking black markings and tufted feather 'horns', for this reason they are also known as the Horned Lark. Slightly smaller than Skylarks, they breed in Scandinavia and in the arctic tundra, small numbers over-winter here feeding along the strandline and amongst the dunes.

Later that day - the 22nd - we were surprised to see two Swifts so late in the year. On Wednesday we saw another over Blakeney Freshes during a birdwatching session with the Young Rangers, who were also treated to views of Bearded Reedlings in flight above the reeds.
Wigeon on Blakeney Freshes (Graham Lubbock)

On Thursday a Wren decided to spend some time inside the Lifeboat House, happily hopping under chairs, along book shelves and around the kitchen. It spent at least half and hour inside without making a sound, then as soon as it got outside began singing its heart out, perhaps rejoicing in its return to freedom. So to finish with, here is a little game of "Where is the Wren?", which also gives an insight into a Rangers' kitchen...
- Ajay (with photographs by Paul)

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Sunday, 20 October 2013

20th of October: Firsts for the Point

On Friday morning we added Glossy Ibis to the Blakeney Point bird list when four flew east and were seen by Paul from the top of the boardwalk. Although there have been several Glossy Ibis sightings in Norfolk over the past few years, this is the first record for the Point.

Another first for the Point was this spider, known as the rabbit hutch spider because it is often found in sheds and outhouses, this one turned up in the Lifeboat House - what does that say about our living conditions?!
Photo by Alex Green of Brancaster Activity Centre

Coincidentally, there appears to be a rabbit living in the garden. Since being wiped out by myxomatosis in the 1990s, rabbits are a rarity on the Point. This one has been seen hopping out of the brambles near the public toilets and feasting on apples that we had put out for the migrant thrushes.

Several Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares are still arriving on the Point. Peregrines and Merlins are seen most days. There are also several Goldcrests about. A Purple Sandpiper was seen on Friday, a Yellow-browed Warbler on Saturday and the first Hen Harrier of the autumn this morning. There has also been the occasional Woodcock, we found one on Middle Point that had been freshly killed by a raptor. This gave the opportunity to photograph its tail feathers up close. The bright white tips are on the underside and so only observed when flashed to scare off predators. Woodcock are the only British breeding wader to spend time and breed in dense woodland. Those being seen on the Point recently will be birds fresh in off the sea, ready to spend the winter with us.
On winter evenings, Woodcock can be seen flying over Friary Hills onto Blakeney Freshes to feed. They are largely nocturnal and spend most of the day in dense cover.
On Thursday three species of butterfly and a moth were seen on the Point. The moth was an Angle Shades and the butterflies included three Peacocks, a Small Copper and a Comma. Interestingly the only other Comma recorded this year was the first butterfly of the year, on the 13th of April. In a way, that brings things full circle. Like in April, we are once again also putting up fencing. This time not for breeding birds but for pupping Grey Seals. At the moment just the stakes are out, we will add the string and enforce access restrictions when the seals start moving up into the dunes.

Last year the first pup was born on the 27th of October, the year before on the 28th, the year before that the 27th, and the year before that on the 26th. So place your bets now!
Cute pup on the Point a couple of years ago
(Photographed by Graham Lubbock)

Our most recent low tide sea count was conducted on the 17th of October and recorded 902 Greys and 164 Commons.

As we are still in the Lifeboat House while we prepare for the pupping season, the visitor centre and toilets are also still open. They will be open throughout the half term week for visitors walking up the Point.

Whilst carrying out our daily duties, we stumbled upon this fossilised sea-urchin, an echinoid. It is probably around 80 million years old.

Another find was this half gallon green bottle, which has earned itself a permanent place in the Lifeboat House.
- Ajay and Paul