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Coastal walking route change to help vulnerable birds

PUBLISHED: 14:25 18 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:25 18 May 2020

Rick Southwood, from Natural Englands Broads National Nature Reserves.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Rick Southwood, from Natural Englands Broads National Nature Reserves. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A popular coastal walking path in north Norfolk could be diverted for an extra month each year to protect two bird species during breeding season.

Natural England is asking for views on the plan to extend the use of an alternative stretch of the Norfolk Coastal Path at Eccles-on-sea for the good of the little tern and ringed plover.

The diversion, which goes inland from the coastal path, is already in effect between May 1 and August 31, but Natural England now wants to extend that period to start on April 1 instead.

Rick Southwood, from Natural England’s Broads National Nature Reserves team, said: “As Natural England’s senior reserves manager with long experience of beach-nesting birds on this coast, in my opinion this restriction continues to be necessary for its original purpose of protecting ground-nesting birds - little tern and ringed plover - from trampling and disturbance.

“This is even more necessary this year, when coronavirus restrictions may cause difficulties in putting up the usual fencing.

A map of the Norfolk Coast Path seasonal diversion at Eccles-on-Sea, which comes into place for several months each year to protect the little tern and ringed plover. The regular route is marked in red while the alternative route is in orange. Image: Natural England/Crown CopyrightA map of the Norfolk Coast Path seasonal diversion at Eccles-on-Sea, which comes into place for several months each year to protect the little tern and ringed plover. The regular route is marked in red while the alternative route is in orange. Image: Natural England/Crown Copyright

“Given the increasing amount of human activity on the coast, this restriction needs to be maintained for the foreseeable future, unless the birds discontinue nesting here.”

The bird species are considered vulnerable and sensitive to disturbance by people and dogs. Little terns only nest in a small number of areas around England, in dense colonies, which can easily be trampled.

The original diversion came into effect in 2015 and signs were put in place to let walkers know about it.

Rope cordon fencing usually goes up around the nesting site at the beginning

Little terns on the beach, just around the coast from Eccles at Winterton. Picture: Kevin SimmondsLittle terns on the beach, just around the coast from Eccles at Winterton. Picture: Kevin Simmonds

of April, followed slightly later with electric fencing.

The RSPB has said the little tern colony has grown since the diversion was put into place and has and has now spread north towards North Gap.

Natural England’s summery of plan says: “The RSPB confirmed that disturbance from beach users remains a key issue here, and having a the diversion in place remains an essential tool to help manage the colony.”

Anyone who wants to comment on the plans can do so by emailing case officer Sarah Haigh at sarah.haigh@naturalengland.org.uk until May 26.

Ringed plover are one of two species of birds the alternative route seeks to protect. Image: Emily Irving-WittRinged plover are one of two species of birds the alternative route seeks to protect. Image: Emily Irving-Witt

The Norfolk (England) Coast Path goes by the beach at Eccles-on-Sea. Picture: JP AppletonThe Norfolk (England) Coast Path goes by the beach at Eccles-on-Sea. Picture: JP Appleton

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