A brambling winter at the bird crops

Romano2By Cris Sellarés

To some of us, nothing signals the arrival of the colder months as much as the bloom of the sunflowers from the BOTE winter bird crops across the Island. Their bold colours are the sign that the fields will again produce a good amount of seeds right at the time of the year when our farmland birds need them the most.

Just as the blooming of the crops signals the goodness to come, other signs go up, the ones that we put at the edges of the fields to inform neighbours and visitors about the  role of the fields and their importance to the birds.

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Away from their breeding grounds, be they here in Jersey or in far corners of Europe, once the birds arrive at the crops that we’ve prepared for them, all they have to do is survive. This translates in wildlife terms to “eat and do not be eaten”, and this is why the crops play such a crucial role: the seed from the crops provides the food, the structure of the crops and nearby hedges provides cover – from predators and bad weather.

All the birds need at this point is to be left to it, so whilst more and more people love the sight of these impressive flocks by the crops, we ask everybody to enjoy the view from the boundaries and footpaths, and not scare the birds away from their food and shelter.

This winter, with over 60 fields planted at fourteen sites across the Island, is already turning out to be one of the most interesting years that we’ve had at Birds On The Edge.

In late October, when birds started to flock to the crops our resident chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches and linnets were joined not only by their continental relatives arriving from the north and the east, but also by other species of finches which we do not usually see in Jersey, in particular dozens, maybe hundreds of bramblings. In comparison, the previous winter only two representatives of this colourful finch were seen at the crops.

Chaffinch. Photo by Romano da Costa

Bramblings will hang out with chaffinches and other finches, and have no problem following them to people’s gardens to feed, so if you start seeing chaffinches in your garden, particularly if the weather turns very cold, keep your eyes peeled for bramblings, they will be making their way there soon.

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In conclusion, seeing that these hungry bramblings that found their way to Jersey and to the crops are feeding in them is a great sign that the fields are doing their job – providing sustenance for birds in need is exactly what they were planted for.

The seed for the crops was bought with a generous donation from Action For Wildlife Jersey and a grant from the Countryside Enhancement Scheme. Action For Wildlife Jersey is a local group of nature enthusiasts and experts on various fields (excuse the pun) who organise many educational walks and talks throughout the year. The many farmers, sponsors and everyone at BOTE hope that you are enjoying the winter bird crops as much as the birds already are.

Read the report from the 2016-2017 winter here

Plémont – how to create species rich grassland…. or heathland

Plemont headlandBy Jon Parkes 

July 2016 saw the official opening of Plémont Headland and for the first time in over 140 years (before the original “Plémont Hotel” was built in 1874) the public have been free to enjoy this special place.

Creating and protecting “green space” for people has been at the heart of the Plémont debate and acquisition and indeed forms a very important part of the National Trust for Jersey’s ethos. But ensuring that nature has a home is also a vital component of what we do and there has never been a time when action has been so desperately needed.

In 2015 The States Department of the Environment published the results of the Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme after 10 years of collecting data across 38 sites by a team of dedicated volunteers. The results suggest that whilst Jersey’s butterflies might be faring slightly better to those in the UK, the surveyed population has still decreased by 14%, (compared to 29% in the UK). Interestingly Jersey’s butterfly population is doing best in semi-natural sites as opposed to those in agricultural or urban habitats where they are declining. In fact the green hairstreak is one species that is doing particularly well and has been recorded as increasing by 458% in the last 10 years as opposed to suffering a 40% decrease in the UK. This could be seen as a strong indication of the importance of managed semi-natural sites such as Plémont.

Ponds

The creation of two ponds at Plémont was eagerly anticipated by the local toad and palmate newt population, who were literally queuing up to jump in upon their completion. For two consecutive years the Eastern Pond has been used by both species to breed. This year, the larger Western Pond has seen a whole new generation of toadlets emerge after metamorphosing from their tadpole stage.

Common toad. Photo by Kristian Bell

Despite the amphibian successes, both ponds have experienced teething problems and most noticeably the appearance of the lime-green algal blooms. Spirogyra is a family of around 400 species of filamentous algae that is commonly found in freshwater and is indicative of clean water that has high concentrations of phosphates and nitrates. It can be easily removed but doing so would jeopardise any invertebrate life or tadpoles that would become encapsulated amongst the tiny strands of algae.

Plemont pond

Another issue the ponds face is loss of water through evaporation, due to their exposed position to the sun, wind and transpiration – the evaporation of water from plant leaves. Whilst there is means to top up the water levels from a well, this would mean the introduction of more nutrients which would cause more algae. The proposed solution is to encourage more oxygenating plants and remove the algae once the toads have emerged from the water, decreasing the level of nutrients over time. Equilibrium will be reached, the water quality will improve and we will have to accept that the water levels will drop in the summer months. As long as there is water during the amphibians’ breeding period (February-June) the pond is serving its purpose and will act much like many natural ponds without constant water inflow.

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Grassland

Back in the spring of 2015 you may remember the huge mounds of sandy soil which were spread over the footprint of the demolished buildings. Over 7,000 tonnes of sandy soil, sourced from Les Quennevais and recycled soil from La Collette formed the base of what we now refer to as the restoration area. To create a heathland such as Les Landes we would need a free draining sandy soil with a low pH (pH 5-6 ideally) and low nutrient levels. It is easier to maintain a species-rich wild flower habitat when there are fewer nutrients in the soil. If you add fertiliser (or compost or a lot of manure) to the soil, a small number of competitive plants are able to rapidly exploit these extra nutrients. These species then tend to become dominant and other plants are less able to compete for space. Most plants rely on a relationship with fungi and soil micro-organisms in order to grow. Fertilisers have a negative impact on these organisms making it more difficult for the flowers to grow.  With very little choice available, in the quantities we would need, a mixture of sandy soil, sourced from Les Quennevais and recycled sand from La Collette was chosen. Although the average pH was around 8.5, the particularly low nutrient status would mean far less of a burden when it would come to managing the developing vegetation.

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Snow bunting, Plemont, November 2017. Photo by Romano da Costa

This June our Conservation Officer, Jon Rault, assisted by the very knowledgeable local botanist Anne Haden, undertook a vegetation survey to assess how things have developed and have some interesting results. Around 50 plant species have so far been recorded including: wild carrot, toad rush, birds-foot-trefoil and small-flowered catchfly. Maritime Duneland plants such as fragrant evening-primrose, sea beet and sea radish have appeared, but this isn’t so surprising considering the origins of the soil, Les Quennevais of course being built on Dunes. Some more invasive plants such as the non-native cape cudweed and spotted medick which may need some management have become quite well established and some more exotic species including echium and Californian poppy have appeared as likely remnants of the holiday camp era.

Lotus corniculatis Common Bird's-foot-trefoil

Oneothera sricta. Fragrant Evening Primrose.Resent soil tests have confirmed that pH levels are still rather alkaline at between pH 8.5 and 8.9 and this is unlikely to change without any intervention due to the amount of concrete based material that must be underneath the layer of imported calcareous sand. Perhaps more encouraging is the nutrient status results from the same soil samples. For example, the amount of available phosphorus is currently between 8.8 and 25.8 mg/l with a “P index” of 0-3, compared to a recently tested former agricultural field which showed levels of available phosphorus at between 66.2 and 153.4mg/l giving a “P index” of between 4 and 7.

Beta vulgaris subsp maritima Sea Beet.Our current situation, with the encouraging results of vegetation surveys, indicates that the soil choice was a good one. Whilst our soil pH is much higher than we would have ideally liked, this is something that can be changed by adding sulphur, an expensive but affective way of raising acidity. As the results from the former agricultural field’s shows, high soil fertility is much more of a problem with no “magic cure”.

The decision on whether to try to acidify our soil in the effort to meet our original vision of creating a heathland is not one that needs to be made straight away and whilst wildlife and people are clearly making good use of the site, we have already achieved much of what we wanted to do.

For the meanwhile, the addition of calcareous grassland to our north coast may be something of an oddity but this may also be its strength and reason to remain as such. A new and interesting patch adding heterogeneity to the landscape is something that’s often lacking.

Further decisions will be required but there will be a need to balance and create opportunities for nature as well as public access and enjoyment.

This piece was originally published in the National Trust for Jersey magazine Discover and is reprinted here with kind permission

Choughs at Sorel Point May 2017. Photo by Mark Sleep

 

Grazing returns to L’Ancresse Common

From La Société Conservation Herd

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The (Guernsey) Conservation Herd have been invited to graze L’Ancresse Common and were moved to the common on Sunday 2nd April.

La Société Conservation Herd were invited to graze the Common by Vale Commons Council as a trial to re-introduce grazing. This initiative has been set up under its new management regime which aims to protect the area as an important recreational and cultural site whilst also enhancing the internationally important grasslands.

The Conservation Herd at Port Soif, Guernsey. Photo by Helen Young

Background

L’Ancresse Common was historically grazed by inhabitants of Braye du Valle, who have rights to graze their animals there. As fewer households kept their own cows and it became less economically viable for dairy farms to graze theirs on the common, the number of grazing animals there reduced. Today, no inhabitants exercise their right to graze.

This loss of grazing has had a significant impact on the ecology of the common – the grassland has become tall and rank and areas have become established by gorse and brambles. The delicate wildflowers which require short, grazed grassland no longer have access to light and so are being lost from the common. This, in turn, leads to a loss of the insects, small mammals, bats and birds which rely on them.

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Andrew Guille

La Société Conservation Herd

The Conservation Herd is a herd of eight Guernsey steers whose job is to manage grasslands to protect and enhance their diversity. La Société was approached by VCC to graze the common for several weeks, starting from April 2nd. This initiative is a trial of a longer-termed project which aims to see more grazing animals return to the common.

Julia Henney, the Conservation Herd’s manager, said, “We were delighted to be approached by VCC and asked to graze L’Ancresse Common. It is a vitally important site for Guernsey’s biodiversity and we hope that re-introducing grazing will help preserve it for many years to come. We have experience grazing common land, with the introduction of Operation Skylark at Port Soif Common. The local community offered so much support and the herd were well received and accepted onto Port Soif Common and we hope to replicate this success at L’Ancresse.”

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Chris SimsPeter Blake, President of the Vales Commons Council  said “Myself and my committee wish you and the herd a great stay on the Common and hope that this will encourage more of the inhabitants to do the same.”

The Conservation Herd will be grazing within electric fencing for several weeks around The Doyle area and will be checked daily by the team which cares for them. La Société and the Vale Commons Council would welcome assistance from regular dog walkers and people who walk or exercise around L’Ancresse. ‘Watchers’ are sought to keep an eye on the cattle when they’re passing and report any problems or concerns to the Conservation Herd team.

Temporary signs are placed around the site to explain the project and give information on who to contact in the event of an emergency.

Anyone who would like more information on the Conservation Herd is welcome to contact Julia Henney at conservationherd@societe.org.gg and visit our online map here to track where they are grazing.

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Andrew Guille

 

Winter bird crops feeding more threatened birds every year

photo-by-romano-da-costa-1By Cris Sellarés

The Winter Bird Crops are going from strength to strength looking at the way the birds are rushing to get to them. Results from last winter’s surveys at the crops show an increase in bird numbers of almost 40% in density (birds per hectare), even when the number of fields and area planted did not increase from the previous year. Most encouragingly, the vast majority of birds feeding at the crops were the targeted species: farmland birds such as chaffinch, linnet, reed bunting, meadow pipit, goldfinch and starling.

The winter bird crops are crucial to keep hundreds of birds fed and alive throughout the winter, when there is not much food to be found in the fields or hedges. Many of the species benefiting from them are threatened right across their British and European ranges, and include local birds and migrants who come to spend winter here.

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You can download and read the full report 2015-16 Winter bird crops report here. Here are the highlights:

  • photo-by-romano-da-costa-4Farmland birds are in decline across Europe, the UK and Jersey, with some species having become locally extinct and many others considered threatened. One of main reasons of these declines is lack of food during winter which causes high levels of mortality. The so-called ‘Winter Bird Crops’ provide a source of food at this critical time, increasing the chances of survival of many threatened birds both local and migrants
  • Birds On The Edge works with Jersey’s potato farmers to provide winter bird crops for the longest time possible. A variety of crops are planted with staggered management regimes, ensuring that the crops do not disappear at once when the fields are planted with potatoes. The crops provide seeds and grains of various sizes, energy and nutritional values
  • In 2015 a total of 47 fields were planted to feed farmland birds during the 2015-16 winter. The fields were found at 12 different sites, and, combined, covered a total of 33.3 hectares (163 vergées)
  • The development of the crops and bird activity was monitored throughout the winter. A total of 46,155 records of birds of 54 species were collected over sixteen surveys, of which 40,949 (88.7%) were of target species (endangered farmland birds)
  • Of the ten most abundant species found at the crops, seven were farmland (target) species: chaffinch, linnet, starling, goldfinch, greenfinch, meadow pipit and reed bunting. A total of 14 target species was recorded at the sites. The most successful site had an average of 461 target birds per hectare
  • Net numbers increased by 13,874 birds compared to 2014-15 (54% increase) and by 33,177 compared to 2013-14 (534% increase)
  • The overall density of target birds increased by 39% from the previous winter (2014-15) and by 140% compared to the winter of 2013-14
  • The seed for the bird crops was purchased and provided thanks to the generosity of a private donor. It costs approximately £3,500 to plant the winter bird crops in Jersey
  • This year’s crops, which are already feeding birds in larger numbers than ever recorded, were paid for by the local charity Action For Wildlife and by the States of Jersey’s Countryside Enhancement Scheme
  • Our research proves just invaluable the crops are for these vulnerable species and we believe that continuing this scheme is paramount for their survival. As we begin to plan for next year’s crops with the farmers, Action For Wildlife has stepped up once again and donated £1000 towards the seed for next year’s crops. This will be added to a private donation of £200 we received in the autumn, as we close in our target of £3,500.

Read the full report 2015-16 Winter bird crops report

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New hedge planted near St Ouen’s Pond to help birds

Reed bunting male. Photo by Romano da Costa.By Cris Sellarés

JTFLA recent collaboration between Jersey Trees for Life and Birds On The Edge has seen a new hedge planted at an important conservation site in St Ouen’s Bay.

The new hedge, approximately 200m long, was planted at the edge of the National Trust for Jersey land and the Site of Special Interest of St Ouen’s Pond (SSI La Mare au Seigneur). The boundary lies between the Trust’s grazed pastures east of the reedbeds, and privately farmed fields west of the Rue du Val de la Mare. The potential value of creating a hedge in this area was identified during recent habitat and wildlife surveys carried out by BOTE, as part of a larger group of actions to enhance opportunities for wild birds in the area which were recommended as a result of the surveys. Other actions that were suggested included the planting of winter bird crops and setting up farmland feeding stations.

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A few months ago the local charity Jersey Trees for Life got in contact with BOTE to find a location for a new hedge project in St Ouen’s Bay, for which they already had possible sponsors, and this location was suggested. After obtaining permissions from NTJ and other landowners, the staff of JTFL proceeded to plant a total of 606 hedging whips. The bulk of the plants was comprised mainly of hawthorn, with some blackthorn, wild plum, grey sallow and a few shrubby aspen in as well. They were planted in double and triple rows over on the top of the wide existing bank, and the hedge was completed by mid-March.

DSC_0166It is hoped that the particular placement of this hedge will connect various habitats of importance to birds, especially the reedbeds near the pond that extend to one side of the grazed area, and the arable fields on the other side of it, which most crucially are planted every year with Winter Bird Crops. Many birds have been found in these crops during winter surveys, in particular the locally extinct (as a breeding bird) reed bunting, which now only winters in Jersey with a population of Reed bunting. Photo by Mick Dryden200-400 birds, mainly in St Ouen’s Bay. These buntings roost at night in the reedbeds and travel across the Island during the day to feed on small seeds from weeds, crops and marginal vegetation at small and spread-out sites. They do not like to feed on open ground like linnets nor are tame enough to visit garden feeders, but they have found a great source of food in the Winter Bird Crops managed by BOTE, especially the ones near the pond. However, to get to these fields from the safety of the reeds they still have to cross a large expanse of open ground, namely grassland and pastures. It is hoped that this hedge will provide them with a safety corridor to use not only for travelling between the roosting and feeding areas but also with shelter from predators and adverse weather, allowing them to remain in the feeding area for longer periods at a time.

Many other birds can potentially benefit from this hedge, as it can also provide nesting habitat and a varied source of food (in the form of buds, berries and insects). Greenfinches, chaffinches, linnets, stonechats, Dartford warblers, starlings and many more are likely to benefit from this hedge and the other habitats and features that the hedge will make accessible to them. Other wildlife that will probably use it too includes green lizards, grass snakes, rodents and shrews, toads, numerous insects and other invertebrates.

The future looks good for this area, as there is already an agreement with the local farmers to plant more Winter Bird Crops in 2016 for next winter, and further good news also from Jersey Trees for Life, as they plan to extend the hedge next winter following the same boundary southwards. From our side at Bird On The Edge, we will continue to monitor the birds using the crops and the hedge, and we hope that the data collected over the next few years will reflect the improvements on this area promoted by the bird crops and the newly planted hedge, especially as it develops and reaches full maturity.

*This project has been possible thanks to a very positive collaboration between the local farmers, landowners, JTFL and the BOTE partnership.

Sheep attacked in Beauport

Grazing sheep at Le Marionneux. Photo by Liz Corry

By Aaron le Couteur

This is the very real consequence of not being a responsible dog owner. I’d first like to say thank you, thank you to all the good owners out there, who understand their own animal, and respect others, but even if you think this is you, please read on….

To the culprits, I really don’t know what to say. You may think that this is just a sheep, but I’d say you’re wrong. Her name is Bercail Gallant, she was born on the 7th March last year at quarter to two in the afternoon and weighed just 2.9kg. You could hold her in the palm of one hand. I did, I was there. This is a living, breathing creature that gets scared like we do, that has instincts like we do, that feels pain like we do, and that deserves compassion and respect in equal measure to your pet. No animal ever deserves to go through this, and what makes it so difficult to swallow is that there is absolutely no need for it.

It would be easier to sleep at night to think this dog owner was an awful malicious person, with a menacing dog. The difficult reality is that all too often these attacks are caused by well-meaning people, who never for a second think their dog would have this in them, but they do. They all do. So, if the video (on Facebook) upsets you, please, please be responsible. Train your dog to have a solid recall, never let them out of your sight, and if you can’t control your dog, use a lead. But if something like this does happen, let the owner know, don’t ever leave the animal suffering. PLEASE.

Bercail Gallant. Photo from The Reserve

This happened on Tuesday morning last week in the early hours, sometime before 0800, in the Beauport area. Five sheep in total had various wounds and injuries. Thanks to some outstanding veterinary work, Gallant has a shot of pulling through, it will be a long road, which she doesn’t deserve, but we will give her every chance.

Please don’t forget, these sheep are members of the Birds On The Edge team like us and like the choughs and deserve every bit as much respect as we all do.

The ReserveYou can see a video of Bercail Gallant on The Reserve (Jersey) Facebook page here but be warned this video is graphic and upsetting (and some of the comments are ‘colourful’!).

 

Sheep and lichens at Sorel

Cladonia fimbriata RBy Anne Haden

How do lichens and sheep get on together? Lichens are a great indicator of the quality of the air around us. Lichens like to grow where the air is pollution free, hence the profusion of lichens around the Jersey coast. They are formed from a fungus living in mutual association with an algae and are able to live on different surfaces like soil, wood or rock.

Ramalinas and crustose lichens on rock RThe short turf at Sorel has been opened up by the sheep and the habitat allows a range of lichens to grow between the grasses. Common lichens to be seen on the soil up here include Cladonia furcata and Cladonia fimbriata. Cladonias sometimes have friuting bodies that are cupshaped and easily identifiable in the field.

Open heaths provide an excellent habitat for some of the more unusual Cladonias, the heathers are being encouraged to return to Sorel to create more heathland. The National Trust has fenced off some heathers to encourage them to self seed.

Ramalina siliquosa Sea Ivory RLichens growing on rock can be seen near the cliffs at Sorel, including the very common sea ivory Ramalina siliquosa. There are several varieties of Ramalina on the rocks, careful study reveals some strands are flatter and some bear fruiting bodies. Also on the rocks are flat patches of crustose lichens that are firmly embedded on the rock and are very slow growing.

Xanthoria parietina RThere are not many trees at Sorel; however, the blackthorn and hawthorn bushes provide branches and twigs that are covered in lichens. Especially the very common Xanthoria parietina that gives rise to the expression ‘yellow trees’. Close examination of Xanthoria parietina shows lots of round fruiting bodies often called ‘jam tarts’ by lichenologists. This lichen grows well in nitrogen rich air, hence the increase in Jersey due to the rise in nitrogen in the air from farming activities. So, yes, lichens, like choughs, do appreciate those sheep making it a better place for them at Sorel.

A rich biodiverse mix of lichens and mosses R

Coastal grazing project – coastal slope between Grosnez and Plémont

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By Tim Liddiard

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.

International and domestic obligations

Manx loaghtan sheep at Le Don Paton. Photo by Aaron le Couteur (17)The coastal slope between Grosnez and Plémont is an Atlantic Dry (Maritime) Heathland described as in an ecologically unfavourable condition and the majority is designated as a Site of Special Ecological Interest under the Planning and Building (Jersey) Law 2002.

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).

Manx loaghtan sheep at Le Don Paton. Photo by Aaron le Couteur (18)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.NE-IM-GRosnez fence (1)

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

NE-MPC-Post Arch DBA Grosnez to Plemont fenceline 12.11.2015

Management costs

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.

Conclusions

  • 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.

Manx loaghtan sheep at Le Don Paton. Photo by Aaron le Couteur (2)

How are the birds doing on Jersey’s north coast?

DSC_0045The latest Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiaise includes a paper on the current status of the birds of Jersey’s north coast with details of trends in their populations over 30 years, 1985-2014.

The north coast of Jersey is one of the most important areas for birds on the Island and will be included in the Jersey Coastal National Park. The cliffs have traditionally held large numbers of breeding seabirds including iconic species like the Atlantic puffin and raptors like the peregrine. A wide variety of vegetation types on the upper slopes of the cliffs and marginal, mixed farmland on the cliff tops have been strongholds for many songbirds including stonechat, meadow pipit and linnet, birds typical of Jersey’s coastline and now found only rarely elsewhere on the Island. Jersey’s now extinct yellowhammer population was previously restricted to the north coast.

In recent years, however, changes in agricultural practices locally, notably the abandonment of many marginal cliff-top fields and encroachment by bracken, threats of widespread development and increase in leisure activities have led to growing concern for the Island’s coastline. Long-term monitoring of the bird populations is a powerful tool, showing in part what is happening to Jersey’s wildlife at the start of the 21st Century.

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Survey methods

Jersey’s north coast cliff path runs from L’Étacq to Rozel. The majority of the path (typically from L’Étacq to Les Platons) was walked west to east on one day each year (typically during June) by Glyn Young and others. All birds of every species except herring and lesser black-backed gulls seen or heard at any distance either side of the path were recorded. The two gull species were not counted because, nesting on the cliffs, they are present at all times and difficult to count with this method. These gulls are, however, included in other Island-wide surveys.

There are many variables inherent in this methodology (date, weather on the day, onset or delay in spring etc. and even exact finishing point); however, the spread of 30 years data will exhibit robust trends in populations despite this.

Results

A total of 87 bird species were recorded. While the number of species seen each year stays similar (at around 50 each year), the overall number of individual birds seen each year shows an alarming downward trend.

Total numbers of birds recorded on Jersey's north coast 1985-2014

Total numbers of birds recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Gains and losses

The fluidity of the north coast’s bird fauna can be seen by changes in the species composition since 1985. Species recorded in at least 10 consecutive years from 1985 and not seen for more than five years until 2014 can be considered lost. Species that were first recorded since 1985 and seen in more than five consecutive years up to 2014 are considered gains.

Bird species lost and gained on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Bird species lost and gained on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Peregrine juveniles 2008. Photo by Mick DrydenThe species gained (three diurnal raptors and a corvid) are typically those that have been persecuted, if not in Jersey, certainly elsewhere, and that have seen increases in continental and UK populations following statutory protection. In contrast the losses (three songbirds and a dove) are species likely to have declined through a more varied and often unclear combination of causes within and outside of Jersey including widespread habitat modification and loss, especially in farmland and marginal land, and global climate change. This is of concern as whereas simply protection may have helped restore populations of some, often high profile, species, we are seeing serious declines of formerly common species despite ongoing protection.

Seabirds

Total number of shags recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of shags recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of Atlantic puffins recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of Atlantic puffins recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Jersey has nine breeding seabird species, of which seven nest on the north coast. Of these, six are threatened with extinction locally (see our Red List here). The north coast population of shag was described as very stable in 1996. It has proved quite the opposite since then with the causes of this decline not yet determined. In contrast, perhaps, the situation with Atlantic puffin was more expected with a longer history of decline. The razorbill, in contrast, remains scarce but may be relatively stable with less than 10 pairs. The great black-backed gull population fluctuates annually but is stable or increasing slightly while the colonisation by fulmar (it first nested in Jersey in 1974) appears to have ended: the 75-100 pairs reported in 1996 have not increased or spread from the north coast.

Diurnal raptors

Total number of raptor species (dark grey) and individual raptors (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of raptor species (dark grey) and individual raptors (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of peregrines recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of peregrines recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Numbers of diurnal raptors (here two unrelated groups, hawks and falcons) recorded on the north coast have increased dramatically since 1985. Only kestrel was recorded in 1985 with occasional sparrowhawk (now resident) and migratory hobby adding to the figures in the next few years. Peregrine was first recorded in 1994 but has been seen annually since it returned to Jersey to breed in 2000 after an absence of 42 years. Marsh harrier and common buzzard were first recorded in 2006 and 2012 respectively four and five years after each species was first recorded nesting in Jersey. The kestrel is the only raptor to have been recorded in every year of the survey and, while numbers recorded each year have fluctuated (from five to 22), the population appears fairly stable.

Pigeons and dove

Total number of (feral) rock dove (black), stock dove (hatched) and wood pigeon (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of (feral) rock dove (black), stock dove (hatched) and wood pigeon (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Pigeons and doves (columbids)recorded on the north coast, have shown varied fortunes over the period of study. While only the feral population of rock dove (there are both naturalised, breeding, birds and those possibly still involved in a human activity (‘racing pigeons’) present) can be considered truly cliff nesters, the closely related stock dove and wood pigeon were recorded both on the cliffs and in the cliff-top fields. Two smaller species, the doves, turtle dove and collared dove, are birds of farmland, the latter typically in close association with human dwellings.

Total number of collared dove (black) and turtle dove (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of collared dove (black) and turtle dove (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Rock dove appears to have a stable, although fluctuating, population whereas each of the other species has declined. Wood pigeon and stock dove are very common in other areas of the Island, seeming, in recent years, to simply shun the cliffs. Stock dove was considered (in 1996) to nest widely on the cliffs but now does so only rarely. While the decline of the turtle dove throughout Western Europe is mirrored in Jersey (it may now no longer breed on the Island) the decline of collared dove is more interesting. Collared doves are common in urban and sub-urban areas but increasingly scarce in farmland where the return of the predatory sparrowhawk and peregrine may have influenced their habitat choice. Similarly, the reduction in stock dove on the cliffs may have followed the return of the columbid-feeding peregrine, the doves choosing to nest inland in safer sites.

Collared dove. Photo by Mick Dryden

Songbirds

Total number of meadow pipit (black) and linnet (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of meadow pipit (black) and linnet (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of stonechat recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of stonechat recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Meadow pipit and linnet are birds of the coast in Jersey, preferring too relatively undisturbed areas. These two species probably now breed predominantly on the north coast. Although the decline of the linnet is dramatic, the much reduced population does at least appear to have stabilised since 2005. Jersey’s breeding population of meadow pipit is not high but it too does appear fairly stable on the north coast. The stonechat is another species in steep decline locally with no more than five pairs breeding some years. It is likely that the north coast holds the majority of breeding pairs although even here the population fluctuates.

Two further species, starling and house sparrow are worthy of note. These two birds, formerly considered abundant in Jersey, have declined alarmingly on the north coast. Although both these species are often associated with human dwellings, at least when nesting, it is perhaps a sign of the state of the former farmland on the north coast that both species are doing so badly here.

Total number of common starling (black) and house sparrow (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of common starling (black) and house sparrow (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Starling. Photo by Mick Dryden

Discussion

It is very clear even from this single annual survey that the bird populations on Jersey’s north coast are not faring well. It is clear too that some species and some groups of species are faring particularly badly while some others are apparently stable or even increasing. Although the causes of the declines are not clear and complex, the rise of raptor numbers shows the benefit of widescale, targeted, species-based conservation initiatives while the decline of seabirds and those species dependent on farmland and marginal land shows larger, possibly even global, concerns that will be much harder to redress. Birds On The Edge aims to restore Jersey’s declining coastland birds and return those species now locally extinct.

I am very grateful to Roger Long and the Société Jersiaise for allowing use of the graphs in this piece.

Why farms need dung beetles, why choughs need dung beetles, why we all need dung beetles

Aphodius affinis under the microscope.By Sally-Ann Spence FLS FRES

Dung beetles belong to the group of insects called the Scarabaeoidea, which include dung beetles, chafer and stag beetles. There are just over one hundred species in the UK, of which over half are dung beetles. The National Recording Scheme for Scarabaeiodea has existed for many years, and has mostly been a data collection point and identification support to the recording community. As part of the on-going Species Status Project by Natural England in collaboration with Buglife, a review of the scarce and threatened dung beetles and chafers is currently in progress (to be published next year). This project highlighted the lack of modern records for many rare species and areas of the UK that were severely under recorded. This prompted us, Darren Mann (Head of Life Collections at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History), Steve Lane, Ceri Watkins and myself (Sally-Ann Spence) to go out look for beetles in under-recorded areas and to re-survey sites where rare species were previously known. Together we set up the Dung beetle UK Mapping Project – affectionately abbreviated to DUMP and drawn attention to our project using the Twitter hashtags #dungathon and #dungisfun.

In addition to the fieldwork, we are examining museum collections to extract data for the historic distribution of species. We have put out a call to the beetle recording community, and data mined Irecord and Ispot. All of this data is building better distribution maps, informing habitat preferences and providing other ecological data for the UK dung beetle species. The end result will be a dataset of dung beetle information, including identification, distribution maps, ecology and species conservation status. This will be made available via The British Beetles website and will include an on-line recording system using Irecord.

Why we all need dung beetles

Dung beetles are considered key Ecosystem Service Providers within the livestock sector. They deliver many benefits to farmers including increased soil nutrients and general nutrient recycling. They improve the soil structure by increasing aeration and drainage which in turn increases rain water filtration through the soil which also leads to a reduced run-off of rainfall – research is also looking at their pasture reseeding capabilities, abilities to reduce anaerobic processes and decrease methane formation. We know the process of pasture reseeding can have detrimental effects on soil erosion too.

They reduce pest flies, gastrointestinal parasites and pasture fouling by carrying fly egg and larval eating mites with them as well as consuming the dung the maggots live in themselves. Research is on-going into their part in nitrogen and carbon recycling but we know they are incredibly important in keeping pastures green and healthy for livestock especially in the absence of non-organic artificial fertilisers. Our results mapping the dung beetle species in the UK (although the project is in its youth), are already showing an alarming trend in species rarity and even extinction. The three main reasons behind this are considered to be the use of anthelmintics (especially in wormers), soil disturbance and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures due to a change in farming practices.

We take the opportunity of our survey visits to make farmers/livestock keepers aware of their dung beetles, the latest research, their economic benefits and how they might implement simple workable measures to ensure a healthy dung beetle population. We have received a fantastically positive response from all we have spoken to. Farmers are keen to preserve their dung beetles and we intend to gather more data about species and their population frequencies to enable more research into these incredibly important beetles.

We are at present unfunded (please contact if interested in helping to fund this vital project) so as individuals we are surveying the whole of the UK in our spare time, on family holidays or around other work. It is a huge labour of dung beetle devotion. We are obsessives and dung is a big part of our lives. The project is vast. Different species live in or under different dung in different stages of decomposition on different soils at different altitudes at different times of the year. Dung quality is important too. We have become connoisseurs of fine dung. Not adverse to feeling the texture or giving it a good sniff (you can tell a lot about an animals health by its dung), we will examine it and the soil underneath meticulously for beetles. All data is noted on the spot – the date, GPS location, soil type, weather conditions, temperature, elevation, dung type, pasture quality and time spent in that locality surveying.

Dung beetles in Jersey

Minotaur beetle burrow freshly dug near Devils Hole and the beetle was actively taking sheep dung into it.On a recent trip to Jersey helping a colleague working on the Ice Age Project, I took the opportunity to contact the Roger Long of the Société Jersiaise to trace some historical specimens in their collection that I had become aware of through my research. Never to miss a chance I also managed to survey a few isolated locations and one of which was the area around Devils Hole. It was just awesome to encounter large areas of Minotaur beetle Typhaeus typhoeus burrows. These dung beetles like sheep and rabbit dung on light soils with short turf. The population in this area was extremely good and as it became dark the air hummed with them flying in on sheep dung. They fill their burrows with the dung for their larvae to feed on. The smaller Aphodius sphacelatus and Aphodius prodromus were also represented in good numbers. These Autumn emergence species feed in the dung itself. Excitingly I also found Aphodius affinis in this area. Another small dung beetle that feeds within the dung but is not found in the UK and is considered rare in France. It was also a first record for Jersey.

These dung beetles and their larvae are a vital part of food webs supporting many insectivorous birds and omnivorous mammals. The Minotaur beetles in particular are a important food resource for the choughs (see photo here)  and it was excellent to see the sheep maintaining the right habitat for these beetles by their grazing behaviour and the dung they produced.

We hope to be back in Jersey in May 2016 to complete a whole Island dung beetle survey. This will provide a species list and population density records crucial for further research into Jersey’s precious ecosystems.

You can read about Sally-Ann’s Minibeast Mayhem – Educational Workshops here

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