Sunday, August 24, 2008

Abandoning a birders' paradise to the sea to save entire British preserve

The Times (UK): A swath of Britain’s most popular bird-watching reserve is to be abandoned to the rising sea. The RSPB [Royal Society for the Protection of Birds] is to sacrifice part of Titchwell Marsh, on the north Norfolk coast, to protect its freshwater marshes and reedbeds, which are at risk of being being destroyed by the erosion of sea defences and rising sea levels. The charity said that climate change was one of the reasons for going ahead with the scheme.

The reserve, which is visited by more than 90,000 bird watchers every year, hosts rare species such as marsh harriers, bearded tits and bitterns on its freshwater and brackish marshes. An inundation of sea water would have devastating results, such as destroying the stock of rudd, which are eaten by bitterns, and preventing the rare bird from breeding for at least eight years, the charity said.

The RSPB decided to build new defences behind the brackish marshes after experts concluded that parts of the wall would need to be replaced in five years. Under the £1.5 million plan for a managed retreat, the brackish marsh will be allowed to return to saltmarsh and mudflats that are fully exposed to the tide.

The society said that concrete sea defences, which were deemed to be the only other option, were inappropriate for a wildlife site. “We faced a stark choice between sacrificing the brackish marsh or losing the whole site to the sea,” said Rob Coleman, manager of the reserve.

“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.” Helen Deavin, the RSPB project manager in charge of the scheme, said: “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.”…

Freshwater lagoons at RSPB Titchwell Marsh nature reserve, Norfolk, United Kingdom. Photo by Bogbumper, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

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