The birds are back in town

Seabirds nesting on the cliffs at St Bees Head, Whitehaven

The birds at St Bees are back on the cliffs again for the summer, and we need your help once again to record whether they’re being disturbed.

The Colourful Coast Partnership is working with the RSPB, Natural England and Royal Yachting Association to recruit volunteers to take a walk up onto St Bees Head and observe the colonies for any disturbance, whether it comes from the air, the land or the sea.

Dave Blackledge, RSPB site manager, said ‘The bird numbers are increasing every year, which is great, but we need to understand if the birds are getting disturbed while they’re on the cliffs or on the water as this can affect their ability to raise healthy chicks or fish for food. We know that boats and climbers can sometimes unintentionally disturb the birds but we also want to know if there’s anything else, like birds of prey or drones, which could be having an effect’

Volunteers will be asked to go out once a fortnight and observe the seabirds from certain points along St Bees Head throughout the summer months, recording any interesting sightings. It’s not just skilled bird watchers who can get involved.   Sophie Badrick from the Colourful Coast Partnership says ‘Anyone who’s got a pair of binoculars and is happy to walk along the headland spending a few hours every fortnight viewing the birds and making notes can get involved.  We’ll be running a few training sessions in a couple of weeks to get volunteers up to speed and then it’s down to each individual to decide how often and when to go out surveying’.

The records will be collected by Natural England who can assess the levels of disturbance, whether this is an issue at the site and what kinds of activities are causing the issues. This will then allow Natural England working alongside the other Colourful Coast partners to focus on raising awareness to try and reduce the impacts of recreational activities on the breeding seabirds at St Bees Head so that the birds can continue to thrive.

Anyone who wants to get involved or would like more information should email Sophie.badrick@nationaltrust.org.uk

 

Heritage Coast – your chance to find out more…

Blue skies over head and sand blowing across the beach at St Bees

We’re really excited that the extension proposals for the St Bees head Heritage Coast are now out for public consultation and we’ve had some people asking us about them, wanting to know more.  So, we thought we’d invite you to drop in and look at the plans, find out more, have a cup of tea, chat to us about your thoughts and then feedback your opinions.

 

We’ll be upstairs at the Beacon Portal on Saturday 9th February from 11am until 2.30pm. Drop in any time and have a cuppa, have a chat and find out more about our coastline and what makes it so special.  It’s also a chance for you to find out more about the work of the Colourful Coast Partnership, National Trust and find out what events we’ve got planned for the area this year.

 

We hope to see you there.

‘Excellent’ bathing waters at St Bees beach

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published statistics that reveal that 97% of the North West’s bathing waters meet the government’s required standards for water quality.  St Bees beach has achieved ‘excellent’ status, which is the highest, cleanest class and the required standard to qualify for Blue Flag status.  Great news whether you swim, walk, sail, surf, paddle, stroll or play on the beach.

A new classification for bathing water quality was brought in 4 years ago.  The new classifications are much tougher than the previous system of classification but 97.9% of bathing waters in England now comply with at least the minimum standard.  The results are based on four seasons (May to September) of monitoring for the bacteria Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci in the water so the 2018 results actually reflect the water quality from 2015-2018.  The level of bacteria can be impacted by a range of factors including the weather, e.g. high rainfall causing sewer overflows, or other issues such as pollution from agriculture or urban areas.

Cotton bud sticks found at St Bees

Cotton bud sticks found while beach cleaning at St Bees

 

Alongside a range of stakeholders (including the Environment Agency, United Utilities and the local authorities), hundreds of residents from across the North West have engaged with LOVEmyBEACH to reduce pollution and improve the regions rivers, lakes and the sea.  Even though lots of good work has already been done, there’s still more to do.  Why not see how you can help our coastline from the comfort of your own home by making some simple changes, check out our blog post for a few ideas of how to start.  You can also come along to a beach clean – join us at Whitehaven on 12th December for our last beach clean of the year.  We provide all the equipment you’ll need and even supply biscuits!

St Bees Head Fog Signal Station

We had a great day last week taking members of the public on a walk through the Colourful Coast to the St Bees Head Fog Signal Station as part of Heritage Open Days.

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The weather was kind which made it a pleasure to show off this stretch of coast.  Some of the people who joined us had travelled a few hours and some others had lived in Whitehaven all their lives but none of them had ever been inside the Fog Signal Station.  After talking to a few people on the walk we thought it would be good to share some of the information we have about this interesting and unusual building.

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The building has a long and interesting history, but fog warnings were set off long before the current building was built.

An explosive fog warning device was in use at the lighthouse from 1913.  This would have given an explosive blast at set intervals to warn shipping of low visibility.  The blast would have come from disposable tonite charges fixed to the pivoted arm, then set off by the lighthouse keepers after they had retreated as far as they could; the blasts are understood to have been extremely and uncomfortably loud.

The exact date of when the use of the explosive charge stopped and the Fog Signal Station came into use is unclear.   A set of drawings from Trinity House’s engineering section dated 1962 show the plans for the current fog signal station on the cliff’s edge, comprised of a bank of electronically-operated horns.  We know from talking to people locally that they remember the building being constructed in 1963 and 1964.

St Bees 058_006 copyright Trinity House

A drawing from 1971 shows the installation of automatic fog detectors, which typically ran calculations on mist density in the air and instigated the signal automatically if the water density in the air went over a certain figure and became a hazard to shipping.

It is unclear how long the electronic fog signal apparatus was in use for at St Bees, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that it was discontinued when the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in 1987.

160526 St Bees Fog Horn Station (c) Sophie Badrick (26)

The fog signal apparatus was a Trinity House-type 3kw 30-unit stack. The ‘character’ of the fog signal itself (i.e. the pattern of sound/silence/sound/silence) was two ‘blasts’ every 45 seconds, being blast 4.0s, silent 2.0s, blast 4.0s, silent 35.0s. This blast had a nominal range of 16 nautical miles!

160526 St Bees Fog Horn Station (c) Ed Jagger (2)

If you have any memories, stories, photos or information about the Fog Signal Station that you’d like to share then please get in touch.  At the moment the building is currently closed to the public, but we’ll be running more guided walks to the Fog Signal Station in future so please keep checking the website for details.

Blooming jellyfish!

Last week at as the tide went out at St Bees it left behind a large number of small jellyfish, marooned on the sand.  This jellyfish bloom was probably caused by suitable conditions of warmth, sunshine and calm seas meaning that numbers of jellyfish build up.  Jellyfish aren’t strong swimmers and, while they can pulse their bell shaped bodies, they can’t move quickly which means if the tide turns and rushes out they often get left on the sand.

Most of the jellyfish seen at St Bees were moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), which is one of the commonest jellyfish in UK waters.  The Marine Conservation Society have more information on all the jellyfish we commonly see in the UK, and a few more exotic visitors.

Some UK jellyfish do sting so we definitely don’t recommend touching any jellies you see washed up on the beach, but have a good look – these beautiful and delicate creatures will be washed back out to sea with the next tide.

Blaze destroys important wildlife area at St Bees Head

Firefighters were recently called out to tackle a large blaze on the South Head at St Bees, which has damaged an important area for nesting birds and wildlife.

An area the size of around four football pitches has been destroyed following the fire which broke out on the evening of 12 June. The area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so is an important place for wildlife. The gorse and heath habitat that has been burned was home to a variety of nesting birds, plants and butterflies that have been badly affected by the fire.

Dave Blackledge, RSPB Site Manager for St Bees Head said: “This is a stark reminder of how easily fire can spread following the dry conditions we have had in the past few weeks. Whilst unintentional, the consequences can be devastating for wildlife. Around 30 nests of birds such as stonechat, linnet and whitethroat, which breed on St Bees Head, have been lost to the blaze, and it is likely many of the adult birds were unable to get away from it too.

“The site is also home to some unusual plants like bloody cranesbill and a range of butterflies such as wall brown and large skipper that have all been affected by this incident. Thankfully the fire did not reach the 25,000 thousand strong seabird colony that St Bees is famous for, as the majority of those breed on the RSPB reserve on the North Head. However, a careless act can do a lot of harm, and we ask that all those visiting the site are respectful of the habitat and the wildlife here to avoid future problems.”

Kate Doughty from Natural England, who oversee Sites of Special Scientific Interest, said: “It will take many years for burnt the clifftop habitats at St Bees to recover and there is a risk that some of the special rare plants that grow there may never return. We are all extremely relieved that the seabird colony avoided a similar fate, thanks to the fantastic job performed by the firefighters from Cumbria Fire and Rescue.”

Volunteering opportunity – we need you!

Seabirds nesting on the cliffs at St Bees Head, Whitehaven

As the seabirds begin to come back to nest on the cliffs at St Bees Head, a group of organisations are asking people to get involved with surveying the bird colonies this year.

The Colourful Coast Partnership is working with the RSPB, Natural England and Royal Yachting Association to recruit volunteers to take a walk up onto St Bees Head and observe the colonies for any disturbance, whether it comes from the air, the land or the sea.

Dave Blackledge, RSPB site manager, said ‘The bird numbers are increasing every year, which is great, but we need to understand if the birds are getting disturbed while they’re on the cliffs or on the water as this can affect their ability to raise healthy chicks or fish for food. We know that boats and climbers can sometimes unintentionally disturb the birds but we also want to know if there’s anything else, like birds of prey or drones, which could be having an effect’

Volunteers will be asked to go out once a fortnight and observe the seabirds from certain points along St Bees Head throughout the summer months, recording any interesting sightings. It’s not just skilled bird watchers who can get involved.   Sophie Badrick from the Colourful Coast Partnership says ‘Anyone who’s got a pair of binoculars and is happy to walk along the headland spending a few hours every fortnight viewing the birds and making notes can get involved.  We’ll be running a few training sessions in a couple of weeks to get volunteers up to speed and then it’s down to each individual to decide how often and when to go out surveying’.

The records will be collected by Natural England who can assess the levels of disturbance, whether this is an issue at the site and what kinds of activities are causing the issues. This will then allow Natural England working alongside the other Colourful Coast partners to focus on raising awareness to try and reduce the impacts of recreational activities on the breeding seabirds at St Bees Head so that the birds can continue to thrive.

Anyone who wants to get involved or would like more information should email Sophie.badrick@nationaltrust.org.uk

A Great British Spring Clean on the beach!

Well, what a weekend.  The ‘Beast from the East’ and storm Emma had threatened to cancel our beach cleans but with clear roads, clear(ish) skies and low tides we decided to encourage everyone to wrap up warm and head to the shore.

And what a turn out … 26 people at St Bees on Saturday!  The sun even put in an appearance and there was plenty of chatter and treasure hunting going on alongside the shoreline rubbish searching.  As usual we found all the small stuff – plenty of sanitary products, cotton bud sticks, bottles and the ever present bits of unidentifiable plastic.  In total we collected 16 bags of rubbish which is quite a feat when most of the litter we collected could fit into the palm of your hand.

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The weather wasn’t quite as kind on Sunday in Whitehaven, but Jack and his family still came down to tackle the litter at North Shore.  Here, we mostly find fast food wrappers, cups, cardboard and paper and today was no different.  In an hour and a half we had filled 7 bin bags with Jack quickly becoming an expert at finding even the tiniest bits of litter!

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A huge thanks to volunteers who gave up their time to come down and help out.  We beach clean regularly so check out the events page for when and where we’ll be next.