World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2nd February. This day marks the date that the Convention on Wetlands was adopted on 2nd February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat has provided outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands. The Ramsar network today includes 2,225 sites in 169 countries covering 214,569,564 ha of fantastic wetlands including the Danube Delta, Pantanal, Okavango and St Ouen’s Pond (see all the sites here).
As World Wetlands Day is on a Tuesday this year, the National Trust for Jersey, custodians of St Ouen’s Pond, will be holding an open day at the Wetlands Centre on Sunday 7th of February in celebration.
Events on the day will include:
A unique opportunity to hone your bird-watching skills with help and guidance from local bird-watching experts Mike Stentiford MBE, Bob Tompkins and Cristina Sellares who will be on-hand throughout the afternoon
Fun crafts and games for children run by the Trust’s Education Officer in the bunker classroom
Guided walks setting off from the centre (weather permitting) giving an insight into the natural history of St Ouen’s Pond and surrounding meadows
Taking time to marvel at our resident population of marsh harriers and trying to spot the rare and secretive bittern.
Entry and activities are all free of charge but donations will be welcomed. For more information check here
The rugged north coast of Jersey is one of the Island’s most stunning and dramatic locations. It provides a strong sense of place, supports a unique and internationally significant assemblage of plants and animals and is a honeypot for recreation for locals and visitors alike.
These unique qualities have led to the area being designated as a National Park within the Island Plan – the first such designation in the Channel Islands – and being perceived by the majority of stakeholders, as one of the most ‘special’ parts of the Island.
The north coast forms an almost continuous belt of natural wild landscape from St Catherine’s in the east to Les Landes in the west and contains an intricate network of protected areas supporting a wide variety of wildlife.
Despite its beauty and importance, a wide range of indicators, including those within the Government’s own ‘State of Jersey Report’ show that the north coast is an area suffering ecological decline, particularly in relation to populations of key bird species. It is clear that further management is required to return these areas to favourable condition as required by the Island’s domestic and international commitments.
Maritime heathland has a very limited global distribution being restricted to the north Atlantic coasts of Europe, where it once occurred widely, but has now been reduced in area to such an extent that it has become a rare habitat in Europe.
The habitat is listed for special attention under Annex 1 of the EC Habitats Directive. This Directive was adopted in 1992 as an EU response to the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, to which the States of Jersey are signatory. This allows Jersey to demonstrate that the Island is a responsible jurisdiction in terms of environmental protection and the maintenance and enhancement of the Island’s globally significant and unique assemblages of plants and animals. These types of habitats require careful management for them to retain the features that make them ecologically valuable.
The purpose and objectives of reintroducing grazing
Up until the beginning of the 20th Century the coastal headlands and north facing escarpments were an important part of the rural economy in Jersey. Cattle, ponies and sheep would have grazed upon these areas and gorse and bracken would have been collected for fuel and bedding respectively. Today such practices no longer take place and bracken and scrub has encroached, leading to a decline in biodiversity and resulting in many coastal and heathland species becoming extinct locally, with others in dramatic decline such as the skylark, yellowhammer and stonechat (see details of declines here).
Consequently, in Jersey such areas need to be actively/physically managed to prevent the sites generally and the heather specifically from moving into what is described as the degenerative stage and to prevent encroachment of bracken, which swamps other plants as is very difficult to remove once established.
Sites in Jersey are managed through a long-term partnership between Department of the Environment, the National Trust for Jersey as part of their Coastline Campaign and Durrell. The partnership also supports Birds On The Edge Project promoting the active management of Jersey’s coastland to maintain and restore populations of birds.
One of the BOTE’s critical objectives is to re-establish grazing flocks to achieve sustainable and cost effective land management which will enhance the heathland landscape and habitats on Jersey’s cliff tops.
Key objectives are not restricted to ecological outcomes and include:
The re-establishment of traditional grazing practices to Jersey’s coastland
The restoration of biodiversity in coastland areas by recreating a mosaic of vegetation types
The generation of economic activity through enhancing tourism and inward investment offering the provision of an educational resource
Promotion and incubation of new rural businesses in the Island
Use of the natural environment as a social resource that allows rehabilitation and development of those seeking employment
In 2008, the National Trust for Jersey introduced 20 Manx loaghtan sheep into an area of 180 vergees between Sorel Point and Devil’s Hole to undertake conservation grazing in the Island. The sheep flock is being built to a sustainable size over the next few years by extending the areas that are grazed to prevent over-grazing, whilst allowing the flock to grow into an economically viable business. This is an exciting long term project which is at the forefront of the Island’s countryside conservation work.
Proposed extension to grazing area
The area between Grosnez and Plémont has been the subject of a planning application to erect livestock fencing which has generated both supportive and unsupportive comments from locals.
Issues raised included the cost of the project and that fishermen and others will not be able to access the site; however, gates would be positioned to allow easy access and egress for all users to and from the grazed area at most times of the year. The provision of a north coast route extension will cater for those not wanting to place dogs on leashes.
The question has also been raised about the stocking density and timing of grazing. There is great scope for flexibility here – there will be options to mob graze (large numbers of animals for very short periods) or more gradual grazing with a low stocking density, although this is to some extent dependant on the grazier’s requirements. The effects of grazing will be monitored to ensure that no damage is caused to the rich archaeology which exists here and to habitats by overgrazing.
NE-MPC-Post Arch DBA Grosnez to Plemont fenceline 12.11.2015
The total area selected for grazing measures is 124 vergees of which 50% is bracken scrub. The costs of management fall into two categories a) the relatively flat areas managed by tractor and by hand (50 vergees) and b) the coastal slopes, inaccessible by machine and managed by hand (74 vergees).
Mechanical and chemical control and management by hand will cost approximately £24,705 per annum.
Control by grazing animals will cost approximately £8,550 per annum with a one-off capital cost of £17,000 for fencing including materials and labour.
The Island has domestic and international obligations to protect its non-renewable natural resources
Strong evidence suggests that protected areas on the north coast of the Island are in ecological decline and that management is required to reverse these declines and avoid future extinctions and habitat degradation
Any management regime should be cost effective, particularly at a time of austerity, sustainable in the long-term and where possible provide multiple benefits to the Island
The use of grazing animals is a third of the price of mechanical intervention and provides a range of added societal benefits and consequently appears to be the most cost effective and appropriate option for ongoing heathland site-restoration on the north coast
If the lands were left to overgrow there would be significant knock-ons to public access to the countryside in addition to substantial costs to re establish pathways and routes should this be deemed necessary.
There is growing concern that our widespread amphibian and reptile species are in national decline. NARRS aims to tell us more about the status of the widespread species across the British Isles, using standardised methods in a systematic way. Ecological data on these species are collected over a six-year cycle in order to (a) generate sufficient records on which to base an assessment of conservation status and (b) investigate changes in species’ occupancy over a realistic timescale. The use of established survey protocols is intended to provide a robust basis for conservation decision-making.
Jersey NARRS uses trained volunteers to carry out surveys within an allocated 1 km survey square. The scheme is currently looking for 2016 volunteer survey recorders.
There are two types of surveys available:
Ponds nearest the south-west corner of an allocated survey square are identified and, where necessary, permission to survey from the landowner and/or tenant is obtained. Letters of introduction are provided if required. Up to four (sometimes more) visits are carried out using (i) visual searching, (ii) netting, (iii) night torching and (iv) – where appropriate and if the surveyor is confident – bottle-trapping in order to detect the amphibian species present. Volunteers will be recording survey conditions (weather etc.), species present, habitat characteristics and any changes in the pond between surveys.
Reptile surveyors use maps or aerial photographs to identify potential reptile habitat in their survey square and obtain permission to visit promising areas as necessary. Up to four (sometimes more) visits are carried out using (i) visual searching, (ii) checking existing refugia and (iii) checking artificial refugia (where it has been possible to lay these) in order to detect all reptile species present. The use of refugia is particularly important in finding slow-worms and grass snakes and they are also used by green lizards. Survey conditions, species present and habitat characteristics are recorded. It is particularly important for reptile surveys to be conducted during appropriate conditions (e.g. in good weather) to maximise detection probability.
If you have not done anything like this before, don’t worry as full training will be given in April (details to follow), but if you want to be involved in 2016 surveys please get in touch with Nina now at email@example.com or by phone at 441624
Establishing the ratio of male to female common pochard ducks could be the key to understanding why the two European populations of this species are declining. Measuring the ratio of male to female common pochard ducks in a flock is a relatively simple affair for an enthusiastic bird watcher or dedicated bird counter.
And it shouldn’t be too hard for the rest of us either, because the distinctive males have a spectacular reddish brown head with a black breast and tail; females on the other hand are not so colourful. The difference between the sexes is really quite obvious at this time of year.
But why would anyone want to count ducks?
Birds are dying for some reason or fewer young are being produced
The reason, explains Kane Brides, monitoring officer for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), is that there are two populations of common pochard Aythya ferina in Europe: one in central Europe and the Black Sea area and another in Europe’s northwest and northeast.
“Both populations have been decreasing at a steady rate and that’s why there is quite a lot of interest in the pochard at the moment to try and find out why that happened.”
There is so much concern over the decline that their conservation status has recently been upgraded to Vulnerable in the IUCN red list of threatened species, as well as being moved from the UK’s amber list to the red list of conservation status. In Jersey, although small numbers winter each year, common pochard is Red listed to protect the tiny breeding population (1-2 pairs breed most years). This means pochards are now a priority species requiring urgent action to find out what is happening to the populations.
“Birds are dying for some reason or fewer young are being produced, either survival or productivity is the reason and we’re going to work on that to find out,” Mr Brides told BBC Earth.
Because little is known about their population structure and any differences in survival rates between the sexes, so counting the number of males and females could be instrumental in understanding the decline.
What is well known, explains Mr Brides, is that in wintering duck flocks in the north there are more males in the flock, and further south there are more females. And, with males being dominant over females they are able to occupy more favourable wintering areas, and migrate shorter distances. So the smaller females’ have a longer migration and also stay on breeding grounds for longer, leading to an increased risk of predation.
“The combination of all of that probably has an effect on the females’ chances of survival,” he says.
But the last sex ratio survey in pochards was done nearly 50 years ago. So, across Europe, the new pochard sex ratio survey is open to anyone, whether they are an enthusiastic bird watcher and dedicated counter, or just happen to come across a flock of pochards on a lake or estuary.
“What it will do is give us useful information on the population structure and also give us a very crude estimate of changes to survival rates between the two sexes over those years,” Brides told BBC Earth.
It is happening throughout January with a co-ordinated snapshot of what’s going on at one time planned for the 16 and 17 January during the International Waterbird Census. To take part simply record the number of males, females and the size of the flock and submit your data on the Duck Specialist Group (DSG) website.
In Jersey, we only regularly see common pochard at a couple of well-visited sites. Most birds are at St Ouen’s Pond and the Mont a la Brune Sandpits but there may be others on the Island’s reservoirs. If you see any please send your observations to Tony Paintin firstname.lastname@example.org so that they can be forwarded to the DSG.
The only requirement “is to recognise a pochard and how to identify the male and female,” says Mr Brides.
Radio-tracking took an interesting turn this month. Photo by Liz Corry
For the past two months some of the choughs have been making infrequent visits to Crabbé in the morning and the odd trip further west to Les Landes. In December they decided that breakfast at Crabbé would become part of their daily routine. More specifically they were finding breakfast at the shooting range! Highly entertaining for the radio-tracking team as you can imagine: and certainly not featured in the project’s risk assessment!
The rifle range at Crabbé is perfect foraging habitat for choughs (as long as they avoid the targets). Photo by Liz Corry.
The short grass at the gun range and low level of disturbance provides perfect habitat for insects the choughs love to eat. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs also love to fly up and down Les Vaux de Lecq next to the gun range. The narrow valley running up from Grève de Lecq beach has an interesting effect on the prevailing winds.
The top of the hill at Le Câtel de Lecq hill provides a perfect look out point for when the choughs start flying around the cliffs at Rouge Nez. It is also another site were the Manx Loaghtan sheep are kept to manage the land. Possibly another reason why the choughs are attracted to this end of the Island, showing further the importance of these sheep.
View from the top of Le Câtel de Lecq looking inland towards Les Vaux de Lecq. Photo by Liz Corry.
Manx Loaghtan sheep at Câtel surprised to see a radio-tracker first thing in the morning. Photo by Liz Corry.
Rouge Nez and Petit Grève taken from Câtel. Photo by Liz Corry
The victorious moment that staff beat the choughs to Crabbé and watched a group of 14 fly in from Devil’s Hole. Photo by Liz Corry.
Which way will they go next? Photo by Liz Corry
We are all wondering where is next on the chough’s travel itinerary? Please keep sending in your reports of sightings as the birds are always trying to outsmart us!
End of year catch-up
At the start of December Noirmont (or Noir for short) was sporting a slightly longer bill than the rest of the flock. The bill on a chough is constantly growing much like our nails. Mechanical wear whilst feeding, preening, pecking etc., generally mediates the growth rate so you wouldn’t notice. For some reason Noir’s was not being worn down at a sufficient rate and was very noticeable.
Noir’s overgrown bill. Photo by Liz Corry.
The upper mandible had started to cross over with the lower which reduced her ability to forage for wild insects and will have limited her food intake. The simple solution was to catch her up and give her a quick trim as you can see in the video below
The flexible part of Noir’s transmitter antennae mysteriously snapped off. Photo by Liz Corry.
Whilst we had Noir in the hand we took a look at her radio transmitter. Somehow the flexible antennae, visible in flight, had broken off the day before.
We thought a closer look might shed some light on how this had happened. It didn’t.
We thought the manufacturers might know. They didn’t.
It will remain a mystery. All that matters is that she is ok and the transmitter is still working.
Noir wasn’t the only bird we caught up that day. Since we had the group locked in to catch Noir we took the opportunity to look at a few others we had on our ‘watch list’.
Lee also had transmitter issues…he had lost it!
First thing on 7th December his radio signal had been beeping away from the direction of the aviary suggesting he was having breakfast over there. Except he wasn’t. Lee was over at Crabbé frolicking around with his friends. Was he trying to evade us on purpose like some sort of rebellious teenager?
The transmitter was found in the aviary in a known roosting-spot. It was still attached to the central tail feather which is glued to the body of the transmitter. At the end of October we noticed that Lee‘s central tail feather had twisted round almost 90 degrees perpendicular to the other eleven tail feathers.
The tip of Lee’s dropped feather, with transmitter still attached, shows a new feather starting to grow in. Photo by Liz Corry
Regardless of the reason, the weight of the transmitter on the feather more than likely played a part in the feather eventually coming out.
Closer examination showed that a new feather had started growing through at the base a few weeks prior to the transmitter dropping.
We are still following Lee’s movements it just means a little more groundwork for us. In flight you can see the gap in his tail feathers. On the ground we have to wait until we can see his leg rings which isn’t always easy depending on the terrain.
Lee at Les Vaux de Lecq clearly showing his identifying leg rings but missing his tail-mounted transmitter. Photo by Liz Corry.
Ormer, Dusty, and Bean were caught up to check on how they are progressing after their treatment for nematodes and general malaise. They all seemed ok and we were able to get accurate body weights from them; all relatively reasonable considering the time of year.
Chough in a bag; obtaining a body weight for Ormer. Photo by Liz Corry
Blue was given a replacement blue leg ring for the one she lost in summer. Photo by Liz Corry.
Last on the list of things to do whilst all 22 choughs were locked inside was to replace the plastic leg ring Blue lost in summer.
She has been quite busy over the last few months being a new mum. We didn’t want to interfere before and she has been easy to identify through her behaviour.
Lessons learnt this month
After several roost-checks we now know that twenty of the choughs roost at the aviary each night. White and Mauve prefer to have a bit of privacy and remain faithful to their roost-site down in the quarry.
Mental note for next year: don’t place the Christmas wreath directly underneath an external roost box!
Christmas wreath at the chough aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs inspect the Christmas tree but refuse to perch on it. Photo by Liz Corry
The Christmas tree does get used – by a local kestrel. Photo by Liz Corry
In an attempt to get into the spirit of the festive period the aviary was adorned with the Christmas wreath (above), gold pine cones for enrichment treats, and a tree! Budget was tight so an actual Christmas tree was out of the question. Bear in mind the inquisitive nature of corvids we had to think about choking hazards and non-toxic materials so fake snow and tinsel was ruled out. We kept it au naturel with the hope of getting a festive Christmas card out of it. The weather was against us, as it was with most activities this month, which meant background options were limited to light rain or heavy rain. We also blamed the weather for tipping the tree over. Until we spotted the local kestrel perched on top!
Christmas Day itself was no different from any other day. Staff handed out a Christmas dinner of mealworms and boiled egg to the choughs. It might not sound like your typical family Christmas meal, but I’m sure a few of you out there will relate to the chaos that followed around the dinner table.
And in other news…
Part of our job involves keeping a daily diary about the birds’ health and activities as we do with all the animals we look after at Durrell. Daily reports, which can include medical records, genetic history, and biological data, are submitted to a global database to help improve species management and breeding programmes. Picture then, if you will, the expression of our animal records administrator as she transcribes the following from the keeper:
“Wednesday 9th December.A few of the choughs were seen warily following a grey heron walking down the aviary field, but were scared away when it turned round to face them.”
Sun beginning to set over the release aviary on the last day of 2015. Photo by Liz Corry.
With 2015 at an end and Birds On The Edge experiencing another successful year we would like to take the opportunity to thank all the staff and supporters who have worked on all the projects this year. Without you none of this would happen.