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Climate Change Leaves Birds Homeless

Sep 11, 2008
Less than a week after the new head of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, said that parts of Britain's coast would have to be evacuated because the shoreline can not be defended from rising sea levels, the RSPB have decided to abandon a section of one of their most popular bird-watching reserves.

The RSPB have to abandon a large proportion of Titchwell Marsh, on the North Norfolk coast as it seems the sea will soon engulf it. The fresh water and brackish marshes host rare birds such as marsh harriers, bearded tits and bitterns and are visited by more than 90,000 bird watchers every year. However due to rising sea levels and the erosion of sea defences, the marshes and reed beds are under threat, and the RSPB seem to think climate change is the main perpetrator! If sea water flooded the marsh, it would have many destructive effects, including the eradication of rudd, which provide food for bitterns, thus preventing the birds for breeding for at least eight years.

"We've got to bear in mind the impacts of climate change such as sea level rises along the coast and increased storminess. These problems aren't going to go away," said Helen Deavin, the RSPB project manager in charge of the scheme.

Experts have predicted that part of the sea defence wall will need to be replaced in five years so to try and control the problem the RSPB have constructed a 1.5 million managed retreat, deciding to build new defences behind the brackish marshes which will we exposed to the tide and return to salt marshes and mudflats. The only other options were concrete sea defences and the society felt these would be inappropriate for a nature reserve.

Currently the brackish marsh provides a nesting site for an important species of wading birds; avocets. However the charity intends to create more homes in other parts of the reserve and also hope to establish breeding sites at Freiston Shore and Frampton Marsh about 20 km away.

Although these 27 acres of brackish marsh will be lost, the new defences are hoped to protect the marshland for a further 50 years. The new tidal salt marshes and mudflats that will be created when the old defences are destroyed will also provide important habitats for birds.

Rob Coleman - the manager of the reserve - spoke about the problems they faced, "We faced a stark choice between sacrificing the brackish marsh or losing the whole site to the sea. I know this is a huge change for Titchwell and for the very many people who share our deep love for the reserve, but the need to go ahead with this scheme was clear."

Jed Andrews, the warden of the Norfolk Ornithologists' Association reserve a few miles from Titchwell, felt that if these measures are not implemented then the reserve will go the same way as the nearby Cley marshes, "Cley was the biggest coastal marsh area in the country," he said. "It was a Mecca of bird-watching. The tidal bank there is now nothing but a shingle ridge and the big tides surge over it every time."
About the Author
Hannah Walker is a writer for www.ecoswitch.com
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