Yann Mouchel, the ranger keeping a close eye on our chough in Carteret, has written an article for Birds On The Edge explaining some of the work his group have been doing to conserve bird species on their coast.
The French Birds On The Edge if you will.
Anaïs Niobey, from Maison de la Normandie et de la Manche in St. Helier, very kindly translated Yann’s article into English. The original French document can be found below.
The Cap de Carteret is visited each year by an increasing number of visitors. Last spring’s lockdown has given nature some breathing space. The eco-counters located in the area to count the number of pedestrians were put on hold – there had, sometimes, been more than 500 people a day counted on the path called “Sentier des Douaniers” (literally: Path of Customs Officers).
Beaten by the wind and the ocean spray with very important sunshine when warmer weather comes back, life on the side of a cliff is not always easy. And yet, plants and animals have been able to develop coping strategies to withstand these extreme living conditions.
At first glance, one could say that the cliffs of Carteret are similar to those of Rozel or Flamanville and the tip of la Hague (all in the North of La Manche County). They are more modest, let’s recognize it, but even though they have a number of animals and plants in common, each of the capes of the Cotentin has its own set of specifications that makes them unique thanks to their geographical orientation or their geology.
The Nez de Carteret can be proud of its cliffs, though lower than those of the Nez de Voidries. It is at the heart of West Cotentin capes’ maritime history and a real ecological gem for Normandy.
And this year, this cape welcomed a new tenant: the peregrine falcon. With a wingspan of 95cm to 115cm, a height of 50cm and a weight of 750 grams to 1.35kg, this raptor is a fearsome predator. The female is a little more robust than the male. It feeds almost exclusively on birds caught in flight (from the size of a blackbird/robin to a pigeon, rarely larger), and its speeds are dizzying because it can fly up to 350 km/h when it dives in the air.
In the 1970s, peregrine falcon populations were severely decimated by the massive use of organochlorine pesticides such as lindane or DDT resulting in a dramatic decline of the species throughout its range. At that time, it only really survived in mountainous areas. However, the ban on these pesticides and efforts made to protect raptors were gradually felt and today we are witnessing, in many places, the return of the peregrine falcon to its areas of origin. In La Manche County, it finds favourable conditions in the sea cliffs or the rocky walls of the quarries.
The peregrine falcon has been seen around the cliffs of Cap de Carteret for several years now. But it quickly finds itself in competition with another rock species: the large raven, which uses the same nesting sites.
From February, every year, the two species compete for nesting sites and it is the pair of large corvids that has been winning the battle. Four young birds were born this year and it’s also not uncommon to see several adult ravens trying to take over the cliff. The known nearby nesting sites are located around Rozel, Diélette and Mount Doville.
After lockdown, we were amazed to discover that the two species had been able to share the cliffs this year; the peregrine falcon’s presence was probably helped by the lack of humans in the area. Nonetheless, these species remain very vulnerable to the disruption caused by outdoor activities. Even more so this year, because everyone naturally had a great need to breathe at the end of lockdown and wanted to go back to nature.
On the Preserved Natural Area, where nature is offered to the public, we decided, with the support of the municipality of Barneville Carteret, volunteers of LPO and an effective watch of the semaphore team, to temporarily close the portion of footpath right above the nesting area and create a diversion, so that the pair of peregrine falcons could raise their three young without any human disturbance. We also temporarily banned the take-off of paragliders and aero-modelling aircraft from the entire site. The paragliders of the “Cotentin Vol Libre” club were invited to the Cape for a presentation on the protection of this natural area and these two emblematic species.
Information was gradually brought to the visitors and we found that this was generally respected and well understood. Those efforts were rewarded with the fledging of the three young falcons! We reopened the path on 6 July.
When we came out of lockdown, we also intervened in the same way to temporarily protect a small colony of sand martins in the Barneville dunes. Those birds, long-haul travellers, are relatively mobile and settle in different colonies where they dig their burrows in micro sand cliffs of eroded dunes. They can be seen in several places on the shores of the “Côte des Isles” (name of the area around Barneville).
In the future, if necessary, we can collectively reinstate these operations to protect the area and that do not call into question the discovery of these natural sites.
Suffice to say that the Cap de Carteret and the dunes have not yet finished surprising us and that nature is a source of beautiful emotions provided you respect and preserve it. A real challenge is to pass on this legacy to future generations so that they can enjoy it too!
Yann works for the Syndicat Mixte Espaces Littoraux de la Manche (SyMEL) which is responsible for the management of protected coastal sites within the Department of la Manche.