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June 2009 - Newsletter No. 111 PDF Print E-mail

THE BIRDS AND THE BARRAGE (Part 2)  

Al Venables

The GOS Vice President concludes his article on the Severn Barrage proposal

In the last edition of The Dipper, I described how the Severn Estuary holds internationally important populations of seven waterbird species that include Shelduck, Pintail, Shoveler, Ringed Plover and Dunlin, and nationally important populations of another seven species including Wigeon, Teal, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Redshank.

All these named species are reliant upon the intertidal mudflats of the Severn, which sustain them either during the winter months or the passage periods of spring and autumn, or in the case of the Shelduck, the breeding season as well. This means that GOS members should be concerned about the proposed schemes for the extraction of tidal energy from the Severn, all of which will impact on the waterbirds of the estuary.

How great would be the impact on birds?

This would depend on the scheme that was adopted. I shall concentrate on the big Cardiff-Weston Barrage, which is what most people have in mind when they talk of tidal power from the Severn. Although it would be the most expensive of the five short-listed options, it would produce the most power, and seems to be the favourite of the `would be developers'.

It would produce a restricted tidal range within the barrage, roughly between the current high and mid-tide marks, resulting in the permanent inundation of about 60% of the intertidal mud currently available for the feeding of waterbirds.

However, this figure - bad as it is - does not tell the whole story. Firstly, previous studies by the BTO have shown that areas of the mud that are used by the birds for feeding are biased toward the lower end of the tidal range, with the result that the barrage might cause the loss of as much as 80% of the current feeding area.

Secondly, it is also planned that the water inside the barrage will be held at high tide level for two to three hours after high tide until the level outside has dropped enough to produce a good head before the turbines are opened.

So not only would the area of mud be reduced, it would also be available for a shorter time. All things considered, it looks as though feeding opportunities for birds would be drastically reduced in both space and time.

The BTO is currently undertaking research to enhance our understanding of how birds use the estuarine mud. This involves use of special WeBS (Wetlands Birds Survey) counts and other projects to map the feeding areas of wildfowl and waders throughout the tidal cycle.

Could displaced birds simply move somewhere else?

If as a result of barrage construction substantial numbers of birds were displaced from the Severn Estuary, it cannot be assumed that they would successfully transfer to other local sites. Other estuaries may already be near their carrying capacity for the species concerned, and the birds already in possession are likely to have great advantage over incomers.

In support of this view, Redshanks displaced from Cardiff Bay by barrage construction were shown to have lower fitness and greatly increased mortality rates as a result of being displaced.

Could there be any positives for waterbirds?

At a presentation I attended recently, a professor of entrepreneurship (I jest not!) said those who have an interest in wildlife should not be concerned in any way about the barrage, as it would actually result in an increase in waterbird populations. This was an irresponsible statement which could not possibly be justified, but it may have stemmed from the following considerations.

The permanent water behind the barrage would probably become clearer as suspended sediments settled. This could bring about its increased utilisation by diving ducks - notably Tufted Duck and Pochard - but these are not the species for which the Severn is important and they would be a poor exchange for the current suite of species.

Another possibility is that the remaining intertidal mud might support more birds per unit area than it does at present. As it stands, the enormous tidal range of the Severn produces very fast tidal flows, resulting in rather unstable sediments which support much smaller species of invertebrates than those of less dynamic estuaries. In addition, the overall density of invertebrates in the mud is comparatively low.

There is an argument, therefore, that the reduced tidal regime behind the barrage would result in more stable sediments; these would support an enriched invertebrate fauna which in turn would support a higher density of feeding birds. This might indeed happen, but we have limited understanding of the changes in erosion and deposition patterns that would occur behind the barrage so such positive predictions are no more than speculation.

However, trying to look at the barrage in a positive way, let us suppose that the barrage is built and the remaining intertidal mud - which will be at the top end of the shore - becomes a richer source of food for waterbirds. We then have the following problems:

1. Change in species composition. It is precisely because it has an abundance of small invertebrate prey that the Severn is a good estuary for a small wader such as the Dunlin. As explained in the last Dipper, the Dunlin is a species in decline nationally and needs to have its habitats protected. Stable sediments with larger invertebrates would be likely to attract larger wader species, possibly to the disadvantage of Dunlins.

2. Reduced feeding time. The available time for feeding, as explained above, will be shorter than at present owing to the holding of water after high tide. Available feeding time will also be reduced by the fact that most species do not feed right up to the top of the tide; there is a zone extending about 30 metres from the seawall which is little used, probably because birds are wary of approaching too close to land.

3. Increased disturbance. Anyone with experience of watching birds on the Gwent coast knows that when a human appears on the seawall most birds within about 70 metres of land will fly off (some species are disturbed at even greater distance). This could be a significant problem when birds need to make maximum use of available feeding time at the top of the shore.

Also this problem could be exacerbated by the development of the new Gwent Coastal Path which, if implemented, would result in much greater use of the seawall by the public. It might be argued that, given time, waterbirds would become habituated to human presence, resulting in reduced disturbance. However, there is regular legal wildfowling along large stretches of the Gwent shore and as long as birds continue to be shot, there is little chance of them becoming habituated to human presence.

The greater availability of the estuary for water-based sports with associated marinas has also been suggested as one of the secondary benefits of a barrage. This could be another source disturbance to feeding birds, and certainly to wildfowl roosting on the estuary at high tide.

4. Possible loss of wader roost sites. Increased development on the shore is also touted as a potential benefit of the barrage. If this were to happen insensitively, high tide wader roost sites could be lost.

Are the birds of little importance compared with the need for power?

Talking to people in general, I often hear the view that the term `internationally important population' may sound very grand but the qualification level for this distinction is only 1% of the NW European population, whereas the barrage would give us nearly 5% on Britain's electricity needs — no contest!

One response to this is that we should compare like with like — I don't have the data to calculate the output of the Severn Barrage as a fraction of the NW European electricity requirement. But if I had, the answer would be a lot less than 5%, possibly lower than 1%. Also, it is only the threshold for importance that is 1%, not the actual number of birds present — the peak counts of Pintail, Shoveler and Dunlin on the Severn approach 2% of the NW European population.

We should also keep in mind that the number of birds using the Severn Estuary is, in reality, very much higher than the quoted figure of about 69,000 — this figure is obtained by adding the peak annual counts for each species, and is therefore a minimum estimate that takes no account of birds moving through the estuary.

By way of illustration, one might count 100-200 Redshanks at Peterstone most days in April, but this is the season when birds are passing through and the total number of individuals using the site could easily be five times the peak count for any one day. Similarly, Shelduck tend to peak on the Severn around October and again in mid-winter, and many of the birds in these two peaks will be different individuals.

At present we can't know the true number of birds using the estuary but it is undoubtedly much greater than 69,000. In the near future, the BTO plans to get some information on this by colour-ringing samples of some of the larger wader species during passage periods and the results will be of great value.

What is the GOS stance?

All in all, the Cardiff-Weston barrage seems to hold many negatives and few positives for the birds of the estuary. Because of this, GOS has joined other conservation bodies in encouraging the investigation of less damaging tidal power technologies.

Personal conclusion

My own view is that in the current energy situation it would be silly not to explore the possibilities presented by the Severn as source of clean renewable power. But equally, I don't think that maximising the power output should be an overriding objective if it sacrifices the estuary's great importance for wildlife. It would take a decade to complete the Cardiff-Weston barrage, so we lose little by waiting a year or two for other less-environmentally damaging technologies such as the tidal reef to be perfected.

If these turn out to be impractical, we should then consider one of the alternative short-listed proposals that generates less power but conserves the wildlife of the estuary.

A fond farewell

Julian Branscombe

Julian Branscombe is giving up his post as Chief Executive of Gwent Wildlife Trust after eight years to move to Orkney to work on Scapa Flow's heritage. But, as he explains, he will take with him happy memories.

I vividly remember coming to Gwent in 2001. I had enjoyed working for Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, but I was immediately wowed by the wealth of wildlife in South East Wales. I was thrilled to discover that even the most intensively farmed areas of Gwent matched the very best of the East Midlands' countryside.

Gwent Wildlife Trust itself was vibrant, full of character and characters. I was green in all the wrong ways - but the Trust was to prove a very supportive, if challenging, learning ground for me. Eight years on, I am delighted to see how much GWT now does for people and wildlife, thanks to the doubling of our membership.

One constant has been the battle to protect the precious wetlands of the Gwent Levels. I've been thrilled to see GWT successfully knock back a number of development proposals which would have eaten into this historic landscape of grazing marsh and reens. However, the fight is not over, and the Welsh Assembly Government's plans for a new M4 still pose a very real threat to the Levels. I find this road a malevolent anachronism in an age where no-one, but no-one, would claim to be anything other than `sustainable'. But I have every hope that this vital battle can be won.

The Derek Upton Centre at Magor Marsh is now a buzzing education centre, entertaining and informing thousands of children every year. This reserve hosts our award-winning Green Key project, which provides a programme of award-winning voluntary work which has helped many in their recovery from mental illness. As I write, a second education centre is being built for us on the former steelworks site at Ebbw Vale, to complement our wonderful Silent Valley Local Nature Reserve nearby.

Since the 1990s, GWT has been a world leader in restoring natural grassland. In 2008, we purchased Wyeswood Common thanks to enormous effort and support from all round Wales. The former dairy cattle fields, next door to our flagship Pentwyn reserve, mean we can now practise our habitat recreation skills on a greater scale. I look forward to returning from time to time to witness the changes and see this vision unfolding.

I leave Gwent Wildlife Trust, and my colleagues and friends in the other five trusts, with a very heavy heart. I really have enjoyed my time with Gwent Wildlife Trust so much. I don't ever expect to have such a satisfying or rewarding job ever again, but the draw of the islands of the north of Scotland is too strong for myself and my family to resist. I am so grateful to our wonderful legion of members, volunteers, and staff. I shall miss them all, but I take such comfort from knowing that they will all go forward relentlessly to deliver Living Landscapes across Gwent, and keep the Severn Estuary as a wonderful Living Sea.

Leaving party to benefit Wyeswood Common — Dingestow Village Hall, July 4@7pm

As Julian's instigation, this is will double as a fundraising event — all proceeds will go towards Wyeswood Common, to help set up the invertebrate monitoring programme. The Trustees, members and staff are making a collection for a GWT Wyeswood Common endowment, as Julian has requested this in lieu of a leaving gift. If you would like to contribute, please send a cheque (made payable to GWT).

2009 membership questionnaire update

Richard Clark

First of all, I would like to thank all society members who took the time and trouble to complete and return a questionnaire. Your considered thoughts and suggestions really are very helpful, and the committee will find them invaluable in future planning to make the society better for you.

The overall response to the questionnaire was good with 71 completed questionnaires being returned, representing 21% of the number circulated. I have just finalised the collation of ratings and comments and fed these through in a report to the committee for their detailed consideration.

Clearly, it's too soon to say what actions might emerge as a consequence of your feedback, but it is worth pointing out that some things are already being taken forward. For example, we received many comments about the society's website and helpful suggestions for improvement.

These have fed through to a committee working group and you should start to see some changes to the site being made shortly. Also, those members who volunteered their e-mail addresses will have received this version of The Dipper via e-mail.

In all, 25 members asked for The Dipperto be delivered in this way — this really does help up to keep down our costs. So a special thank you to those who agreed to do this.

We'll keep you fully informed about other actions to be taken forward through future articles in The Dipper and on the website, and we'll publish a set of actions with the questionnaire findings later in the year.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR SUMMER SHOWS

Trevor Russell

Once again GOS has had to decline an invitation to attend a summer show - this time the Go Wild! event at Caerphilly - because we have no volunteers to help man the GOS stall.

These events are good fun and last only for a few hours, and I'm sure we don't have the volunteers to go along among our 400 members partly either because you're not aware of them or have insufficient notice.

Invitations are often received after the last April indoor meeting, then a mid-June committee meeting decides which to attend while the race is on to publish the June Dipper— often circulated too early to publicise forthcoming Shows.

We get invitations to attend shows all over the county -'regulars' include Caerphilly, Usk, Chepstow and Monmouth - though we deliberately decide not to attend all of them.

What we need is a list of volunteers who would be willing to spend a few hours manning the stand in your area whom we could contact when we know the Show details.

If you would be prepared to help out, please send me your name and telephone number, stating which area, or show, you would be prepared to help so that we could contact you.

OUTDOOR WALKS PROGRAMME

Walk on Mynydd Maen, Sunday May 31

Keith Roylance

This annual walk from the outskirts of Cwmbran across farmland with a climb up to the flank of Mynydd Maen has suffered from atrocious weather for the past two years, so fingers were crossed for a better day in 2009.

Sure enough, the sun shone, there was a light breeze — conditions almost perfect — and 20 members and friends joined Mick Bailey and Keith Roylance at 8am for a three and a half-hour stroll.

In the early stages of the walk, the expected Passerines were present, with a Whitethroat being heard in one of the `usual' locations for this species. We had to wait until we were almost at Llanderfal Farm before we saw our first Swallow; at the same time a Cuckoo was calling and a number of the group briefly sighted a Peregrine before it disappeared over the brow of Mynydd Maen. Either it, or another one, was sighted by all a little later.

Buzzards were enjoying the thermals while a Willow Warbler was singing along the hedgerow. A probable nest site was noted, as food-carrying parents were seen regularly entering and leaving an area within the hedgerow bank.

The Cuckoo was still calling and was seen perched on a regular basis as it moved among the scattered trees. For many of the group, it was the first time they had seen a Cuckoo rather than just hearing it.

As we made our way up and across the flank, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Stonechat were regular sightings. Wheatear with fledged young were present at the mine ruins. (On the recce earlier in the week, the parent birds were still feeding the young in their nest within the ruined walls). It was a pleasure to see a successful fledging.

After seeing Redstart and hearing Reed Bunting, we returned via the sunken path - part of an ancient Cistercian way - and made our way back to the start, seeing in total 36 species and relishing the ultra-fine weather. Maybe we'll repeat it next year!

SPECIES

Mallard, Buzzard, Peregrine, Lesser Black=backed Gull, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Swallow, Green Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Redstart, Stonechat, Wheatear, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Great Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Crow, Raven, Starling, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting

INDOOR PROGRAMME 2009

Trevor Russell

September 19 = Jerry Lewis, "100 Years of Bird Ringing (BTO Centennial Presentation)" To celebrate 100 years of bird ringing this year, the BTO has prepared a presentation which describes the contribution that ringing has made to our ornithological understanding by tracking bird movements and migration patterns. Who better to give us the BTO Centennial presentation than our own BTO representative and ringer, Jerry Lewis?

October 3 = Graham Appleton BTO, "Flyway to Iceland," Almost, but not quite, a sequel to the earlier presentation on ringing. Graham works for the BTO and he and his wife are frequent visitors to Iceland and Wales, monitoring the migration patterns of some `Welsh' waders. "Flyway to Wales" would be an equally appropriate title.

October 17 = Ian McGuire, "Introduction to the Raptors of the UK" If, like me, you can use all the ID tips you can get hold of to identify raptors, this will answer most - if not all - of your what's and why's to enable you to sort those little specks once and for all.

October 31 = Gill Bell, "What's So Special about the Welsh (Underwater) Coastline?" Gill is an aqualung diver and a member of the Marine Conservation Society. She will be revealing the environmental and ecological pressures that she witnesses around the seaward side of the Welsh coast and it will be fascinating to compare and contrast her experiences with those of our own terrestrial pressures.

November 14 = Andrew Baker, "A Family Holiday in France" Past GOS Chairman, Andrew and his family have spent many happy holidays in France, and this is a compilation of recent warm summers, fascinating landscapes and interesting birds.

November 28 = Allen Lloyd ARPS, "Recent Trips Including North America and the Galapagos" A welcome return by Allen, who will be showing us some of the splendid pictures of wildlife captured during his recent trips. He promises not to be constrained by the title, so we could be wandering far and wide.

December 12 = Alan Williams, "Galapagos, Darwin and Evolution" GOS Vice President Alan will be describing how Darwin developed his concept of evolution as a consequence of his visit to the Galapagos Islands.

SIGHTINGS

MARCH 2009

HIGHLIGHTS

A Hoopoe was reported from the Newport Wetlands Reserve (31st). An exceptionally early Honey Buzzard was also recorded from this site (30th), as was an Osprey (18th).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

Male and female Marsh Harriers were reported on several dates throughout the month. A male Hen Harrier was observed (6th) and single Short-eared Owls were seen (6th, 21st and 31st). A Merlin was observed (14th) and single Red Kites were reported (17th and 25th). A

Bittern was seen (3rd) and up to 20 Avocets were present by the end of the month. Other sightings of note included a Jack Snipe (6th) and a male Ring Ouzel (31st).

Other sites

A steady flow of early migrants was reported from many sites during the month. Eight Water Pipits were recorded from Sluice Farm (4th). Male Ring Ouzels were reported from Trefil (19th and 31st). A male Garganey was present at Peterstone Gout (21st) and a male Black Redstart was reported from Dingestow (27th). Other sightings of note included an Iceland Gull over Pontypool (1st), a Marsh Harrier at St. Brides (29th) and a Red Kite at Cwmbran (25th).

APRIL 2009

HIGHLIGHTS

A male Subalpine Warbler was present at the Newport Wetlands Reserve (26th onwards), while a White Stork was seen flying over the same site ( 27th). An Osprey was reported from Monmouth (15th) and a male Hen Harrier was seen at Varteg (23rd).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

A female Marsh Harrier was recorded on several dates during the month, as was a Short-eared Owl. Up to 35 Avocets were present throughout the month. Other sightings of note included six Bearded Tits, two Grasshopper Warblers and 25 Cetti's Warblers (all 22nd), a Ring-necked Parakeet (5th), and a Merlin (6th). Sea watching off Goldcliff Point produced five Arctic Skuas and two Fulmars (25th).

Other sites

Two Spotted Redshanks were present at Peterstone (1st). A Common Scoter was seen off West Pill (8th). Single Red Kites were reported from Mathern (2nd), Pochin (6th), Brynmawr (10th and 12th) and Mynydd Bedwellty (21st). Grasshopper Warblers were reported from Llanwern (three on 11th), Rhyd y Blew, Ebbw Vale (up to three from 16th) and Waunafon Bog (two on 29th). Other sightings of note included a Barn Owl near Newport (20th), a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker at Llandegfedd Reservoir (22nd ) and two Golden Plover on Mynydd Henllys (24th).

MAY 2009

HIGHLIGHTS

Five Spoonbills were present at the Newport Wetlands Reserve (27th), with single birds there for most of the month. A Spoonbill was also seen flying over Newport city centre (15th). A possible Hudsonian Whimbrel was also reported from the reserve (15th). An Osprey was seen near Rogerstone (7th). A Pomarine Skua was reported flying past Goldcliff Point (8th).

Newport Wetlands Reserve

Sea-watching from Goldcliff point proved productive on a number of dates: two Arctic Skuas and 16 Manx Shearwaters were reported (4th), a Kittiwake and three Arctic Terns were seen (8th), a further two Arctic Skuas, together with seven Gannets, 10 Kittiwakes and a Storm Petrel were observed (16th), 17 Manx Shearwaters (17th) and two Sandwich Terns were reported 16th) and eight Gannets were seen (27th).

On the reserve itself, 16 Avocets were present, together with a male Garganey, a Hobby and seven Bearded Tits (all on 10th). 582 Dunlin were present (14th), and other sightings of note included a Short-eared Owl (16th).

Other sites

Five Little Egrets were present at the Nedern (7th). Two male Nightjars were heard churring at Wentwood (from 10th). A Bar-headed Goose was reported from Llanwern (16th), three Yellow-legged Gulls were seen at Newport (20th), Hobbies were observed at Langstone (25th) and Usk (28th) and Red Kites were recorded at Clytha (25th) and near Raglan (26th).

BTO NEWS

Jerry Lewis, BTO Regional Rep

BTO Atlas 2007=2011. We are now almost at the end of the second breeding season for this important survey, and many of you will have completed the final Timed Tetrad Visit (TTV) for your chosen tetrad(s).

Overall, coverage is looking very good for this halfway point in the project, but there are still a few gaps. In the next Dipper, I'll highlight those 10km squares that are still in need of TTVs to reach the minimum number required to provide representative coverage.

For the remainder of this breeding season (until the end of August), there is still time to look for some additional (the more elusive) species in your tetrad, and to upgrade the breeding evidence for any species you have already recorded.

You can spend as much extra time in the tetrad searching for these additional species or evidence of breeding that you wish, and record the information as casual or roving records.

If you have not yet been able to take on a tetrad (maybe next winter will be the time to start), you can still contribute by sending in any breeding records you have.

These could range from a sighting of an uncommon species (eg Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tit or Hawfinch) to the confirmed breeding of a common one.

This time of year is very easy to obtain confirmed breeding evidence, with lots of dependant juveniles still in family groups, and adult birds carrying food back to their nests.

The information that is needed is the location - 10km square and tetrad letter (and a name from the OS map that is within the tetrad) - the date of your sighting, the species and finally the breeding evidence.

The standard recording form (as well as a full set of all of the other forms) can be downloaded from the website. If anyone needs any advice on accessing the website www.birdatlas.net or www.bto.org/atlas or wants a form posted to them, please contact me on 01873 855091.

Newport Wetlands

Tom Dalrymple

MARCH

Birds

Spring has sprung and Sand Martin, Swallow, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Wheatear have all been seen or heard on the reserve this month. The wet grasslands and saline lagoons are reverberating to the song of Sky Lark and Lapwing.

Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet and Ringed Plover are all pairing up for another breeding season. Our Lapwing have made two nests already and we have installed our first nest camera to photograph any would-be predator.

March has been a good month for Raptor spotting, with sightings of male and female Marsh Harriers, a male Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Short-eared Owl and Merlin, as well as the more common Peregrine, Buzzard and Kestrel.

Notable bird sightings for the reserve this month were: Bittern on the 3rd, Rock Pipit on the 18th and Hoopoe on the 31st

Management

The breeding wader season has started - and so has the survey work that goes with it. Potential predators are monitored, as well as the waders themselves. Corvids and birds of prey are counted fortnightly. Predatory mammals are monitored by recording their droppings.

The first nest camera and two data loggers were set in Lapwing nests this month. The cameras will show exactly which predators are attacking Lapwing nests, while the data loggers tell us what time of day the nest was predated and, therefore, whether the predator was mammalian or avian.

Mike, Richie and long time volunteer Jackie Whant have built a new fence to make it easier for stock to get off the salt marsh at high tide. This should allow stock to graze the salt marsh at the western edge of the reserve, and hopefully improve its floral diversity.

Builders have been busy with the Redhouse workshop improvements and should finish mid-April. The IDB have replaced a collapsed culvert in one of our most important Lapwing fields. The new culvert will help us control water levels this breeding season. Signage has been improved all over the reserve this month - most of the signs were installed at Uskmouth.

Helen Howlett, the Coastal Access Officer, has worked with Kevin to resurface paths at Uskmouth and Goldcliff, as well as installing new bridle gates at Goldcliff.

Events and visits

On the 5th, Juliet Michael organised a `Come Outside' pilot advisors meeting attended by CCW Chairman John Lloyd Jones and senior Welsh Assembly Government officers from the countryside and community development division, as well as officers from Heads of the Valleys, Forestry Commission, Environmental Agency and others.

A total 220 people braved the horrendous weather to attend the visitor centre's anniversary on the 8th. Tim Stowe gave RSPB councillors Ian Darling and Alan Martin a tour of the reserve on the 17th.

RSPB Wildlife explorers had their monthly meeting on the 21st; Newport Young Explorers - a Newport City Council initiative funded by CCW - was launched at Tredegar House on the 24th. Explorers are encouraged to visit Newport Wetlands.

The reserve passed its internal Green Audit on the 25th.

Reserve managers from RSPB South West region were given a tour of the reserve and the visitor centre on the 26th; and RSPB voluntary walk leaders gave guided walks on the 4th, 8th, 16th, 17th, 20th and 25th

APRIL

Birds

The wader breeding season is well underway here. By the end of the month, there were 16 pairs of Lapwing that had all nested, 13 pairs of Redshank with two definite nests, eight pairs of Avocet with five nests, two pairs of Oystercatcher, one Pair of Ringed Plover and a pair of Little Ringed Plover on the visitor centre scrape.

The bad news is that Lapwing numbers have dropped from 38 pairs last year to only 16 this year. The good news is that 15 pairs are nested inside the fox fence and 10 have hatched successfully. Only one nest has been predated (by Crow) and that pair has re-laid.

All the usual spring birds are here, including Warblers, Cuckoo, Hirundines and Swift. Whimbrel, Fulmar and Arctic Skua have been seen migrating up the estuary. Notable bird sightings for the reserve this month were: Little Gull on the 3rd, Brent Goose on the 2nd and 5th, Wood Warbler on the 13th and Subalpine Warbler on the 27th and 28th

Management

Whether replacing nest camera batteries, surveying or checking the fox fence, everyone has been involved in the breeding wader work this month.

The builders have now finished the Redhouse workshop improvements, and Mike is constructing a scaffold barrier to give us access to the loft space above.

Planning work has begun on a BIFFA award project to help improve the SSSI ditch features of the grasslands.

Steve & Linda Davidson carried out a bat survey on the 24th and found a Nathusius Pipistrelle — a first record for Gwent.

Events and visits

JJ's team held an `Easter Egg-stravaganza' for children at the visitor centre on the 12th.

On the 17th, Jonathan Mullard, Manager of the Severn Estuary Partnership, was invited to the reserve to discuss its potential as a location to promote the Severn Estuary.

I gave a talk to Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust on the 17th; Kevin gave a talk to the Penhow WI on the 20th; Kevin and long time volunteer Chris Hurn kindly led a breeding wader walk on the 26th

Andy Hughes, our panel engineer, made his annual inspection of our reedbeds under the Reservoirs Act on the 30th

MAY

Birds

Lapwing pairs have increased from 16 to 23 this month. Lapwing hatching success has been very good on the lagoons, with 14 nests hatched, five being incubated, one nest abandoned  and two we don't know about.

The one nest on the grasslands not protected by the fox fence was predated around dusk. It's too early to judge fledging success — however, the early signs are that avian predators have taken about half of the Lapwing broods. Two Lapwing chicks have fledged.

Redshank pairs have increased from nine to 14. All three of the Redshank nests monitored have hatched. Chick survival appears to be much higher than Lapwing.

Of the eight pairs of Avocet with five nests, one nest has hatched with the chicks predated  and two more pairs have nested - taking the total number of nests to six.

The Goldcliff lagoons continue to attract spring migrants - 16 species of wader were seen this month. Sea watchers at Goldcliff Point were rewarded with views of Fulmar, Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Storm Petrel, Arctic and Pomarine Skuas.

Notable bird sightings for the reserve this month were: five Spoonbill on the 27th, five Spotted Flycatchers on the 23rd and a male Garganey on the 10th

Management

The stock went out on the wet grasslands this month. The grass grew well in April and May this year, and we could have done with the stock a bit earlier in some fields.

Work continues with breeding waders and so far the fox fence has held up well. New cameras and data loggers have been installed this month. Extra way marking signs have been put out and improvements made to the public footpath that runs through the reserve.

The arable crops were sown this month to provide seed for winter Passerines Events and visits

Daryl Spittle of GOS led an excellent Dawn Chorus walk on Sunday the 3rd; the education team at the visitor centre ran the May Day `bug hunt' on the 4th; the Scouts held their Jamboree on the 9th - attended by over 100 scouts - and the education team ran a `Wild Sensations' event on the 16th

BIRD BOX EVENT

Keith Roylance

Earlier this year, we held a Bird Box event where a number of members and friends made nest boxes to take home and hopefully erect in their gardens. We would like to know how many were successful in attracting birds to nest - and whether the nesting was successful.

Please let us know, either via e-mail to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or to any committee member at an indoor meeting. We know of one box put up in Magor that immediately attracted a Blue Tit to nest and successfully fledge young.

The June meeting learned that the appeal against the planning Refusal at Whitson Aerodrome had taken an unexpected twist - despite all the illegal buildings and illegal concrete runway that have been constructed without planning permission, it seems it will now be up to the environmentalists to prove that the increased flying activity by aircraft and microlights does cause disturbance to the birds on the adjacent Newport Wetlands Reserve and the local community, rather than the owner have to prove that it does not!

The planning authorities seem to have lost sight of both the illegality and where the onus of proof should lie. The appeal will be heard in late July/early August.

A royalties cheque for over £500 has been received from the sale of nearly 400 Birds of Gwent books sold to date. The editors - and Al Venables in particular - were once again warmly thanked for their efforts

A recent engineering evaluation of the five Severn Barrage proposals was asked which was their preferred proposal. None of the barrages met with much support. Al Venables was one who voted against barrages, advocating instead the Tidal Reef or Tidal Raft schemes, because either would be less environmentally damaging than a barrage.

Furthermore, it was revealed that a similarly large barrage in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, has created all the adverse side effects feared for the proposed Severn barrage, in direct contradiction of the UK Government assurances. Why are we not surprised?

Meanwhile, the BTO has conducted low tide counts and will carry out nocturnal counts using infra red cameras to monitor how birds use the mudflats both by day and night. They will also use colour ringing to monitor transient usage on passage.

The treasurer reported the worrying statistic that membership is 54 lower than at this time last year. It was surmised that this was a reaction to the recession because, similarly, at this time last year 19 new members had joined compared with only 3 in 2009.

A summary of the results from the recent questionnaire was discussed. The library, website and outdoor programme came in for most comment, often contradictory, so a separate meeting will be held shortly to draw conclusions and an implementation plan which will be presented to the membership during September/October.

GOS will be represented at the Magor Marsh Open Day on Saturday, July 11 and the Newport Wetlands Reserve Open Day on Sunday, July 12.

NEW ADDITIONS TO THE LIBRARY:

  • COMPLETE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND EUROPE
  • ROB HUME AVON BIRD REPORT 2007
  • THE BIRDS OF TURKEY— GUY M KIRWAN, et al
  • WINGS AND RINGS — A HISTORY OF BIRD MIGRATION STUDIES IN EUROPE  RICHARD VAUGHAN