During the Sussex Wildlife Trust webinar on 28th January - A Year at Rye Harbour - there were many questions and we only had chance to answer a couple after the talk, so here we try to answer them all.
Did you introduce the vegetated shingle? – No, the waves brought the flint pebbles from the sea bed at times of lower sea levels. Once deposited in ridges by the waves it can take hundreds of years for lichens and then plants to colonise. It’s a harsh habitat and only very specialised plants and animals can survive at first, but as the soil develops more species arrive naturally.
Have the peregrines that I’ve seen recently on Camber Castle ever nested there? Yes they have nested there in some recent years (but not the last two) and been successful in raising young.
144 types of lichen. I did not know there were that many in existence! We have many more to discover here, there are 1800 species in the UK.
Are there any plans to put new signposts showing directions and maybe more of them? Some are in a quite poor state. Yes, we have just started installing new interpretation around the reserve that includes maps and footpath markers. This is part of the “Discover Rye Harbour” National Lottery Heritage Fund, but it will take most of the year to complete because we do not have the support of our volunteer workparties at the moment.
Do you think the snow in Madrid a couple of weeks ago will have disrupted the winter habits of birds like the black headed gull? Bad weather can have a dramatic impact on bird populations, but it usually has to be extreme and prolonged. Birds put on fat stores to get them over periods when they can’t feed.
How many years do Black-headed gulls normally live? Typically 11 years, but the oldest was over 32! This is a good resource of bird information - https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/find-a-species
With the great views of wader pools on some cameras I wonder if it is possible to have a webcam that is viewable. Be a great way to see the wildlife especially the water birds ? Are there any plans to install cameras that would allow to watch wildlife online? No, we feel many exist elsewhere and it’s very difficult to do well over a long period. We do provide a range of video clips that show exceptional behaviour or views of our wildlife – you can see them on our social media or here https://www.youtube.com/user/RyeHarbourUK
How has global warming and the changes in seasonal weather - eg warmer wetter winters and drier hotter summers - affected the bird and plant populations at Rye? This is a very large subject and yes, all populations of plants and animals respond to the weather. Some are affected over short periods, like annual plants will produce fewer seeds in drought years. Some will only be affected over longer periods, such as the long lived wading birds that do better in wetter and warmer springs. The Blackcap is a good example of a species where part of the population that breeds in central Europe now overwinters in Sussex, because of the milder winters and perhaps also because of the food available in gardens.
How will global warming affect Rye Harbour wildlife - positively, negatively or a mix of both? Yes there will be winners and losers. It may be climate change that has affected Yellow Wagtails, so that they no longer breed on the reserve, but the Cettis Warbler only colonised UK in 1960s and its now a common resident on the reserve. Insects tend to respond more quickly and we have seen some new species of dragonfly colonise in the last couple of years, Southern Migrant Hawker and Willow Damselfly.
What does a Wheatear's nest box look like and where do you site them? They are 60cm long tunnels with a restricted entrance, that we bury in the ground, mostly within the electric fences where there is more protection from Fox and Badger.
What is the reason for the decline in Wheatears. What can be done to arrest it? What’s happened to the Wheatears??? Our breeding population is isolated and so vulnerable to extinction – Dungeness and Rye Harbour is probably part of the French coastal population. Ground predators might be a major issue, or it might be something where they overwinter in North Africa. It would take a lot of research to really understand.
If the EA stopped managing the shingle, how would the reserve change? I think that if the Environment Agency stopped recycling the shingle there would be some very quick changes to the coast of Rye Bay, probably within five years – the Pett sea wall would be washed away and the sea would flood most of Pett Level, there would be more regular flooding by the sea of the reserve (not a bad thing), the river mouth would be blocked to navigation as the shingle moved across, Camber Sands would become shingle. Major changes that would affect hundreds of properties and people, the reserve would become smaller, but for wildlife generally it would probably be better.
What about flooding (sea-level rise), Rye could be inundated in less than 80 years. What are the plans for this and would it be a complete disaster if worst case levels occurred. Rye is only dry now because of a complex network of sea defences. If these are maintained, then the sea can be kept where it is for the next 80 years. It will be an enormous challenge after that, but the wildlife will adapt and roll inland as the shore eventually returns to the old cliff line.
Is there any danger that the movement and management of shingle could be stopped in the future for financial reasons - post pandemic? I doubt it, because of the economic consequences outlined above.
We recently saw a stoat near the reserve, crossing the road, are they a threat to the birds? They are a threat to nesting birds and in the last 2 years have affected the breeding success of plovers and terns.
When do the redshank start singing/displaying? Warm days in March and then into early June.
Could that caterpillar be big because it's near a nuclear power station. There is no connection, The Pale Grass Eggar is of a similar size to the more common Grass Eggar.
Didn’t realise Bitterns were in Rye, I thought they were more in west country… Since we created the reedbed at Castle Water in 2005 we have had Bitterns with us all year round and they “boom” in April and May. In the winter we get more from the frozen continent, but they are still very difficult to see.
Do you ever provide feed for birds during a harsh winter? No, we try to manage the habitats so that there is enough natural food.
What is the best time to visit Rye Harbour? My favourite time is May, when many birds are nesting and there’s many flowers and insects – it should also have some lovely weather and the days are long, but not too long. But there is much to see at any time of year.
Why hasn’t the protected sea area made any difference so far? Calling an area a Special Protection Area has not made any changes to how it is managed. However, there is now greater understanding that having areas that are not damaged by trawling will benefit local wildlife and local fisherfolk.
What protection does the marine protected zone afford? At the moment it is only about restricting development, so since 2017 the benefit has been zero.
Why do the birds moult all their feathers twice a year? Seems such a waste of energy. Do they get so damaged? Feathers wear away along the edges and have to be replaced. There are many strategies, but most birds only have one major moult a year.
Has the work on the saltmarsh habitat affected the numbers of avocet breeding on the reserve? Yes, the muddy parts of the saltmarsh are favourite feeding areas. However, the initial increase in Avocets was from the saline lagoons that were created to get the material to build the secondary flood defence bank in 2005.
Where are the bats roosting? The small bats can roost in extremely small spaces in trees, buildings and we have some bat boxes at Castle Water.
What the heck is a sea potato? It’s a close relative of sea urchins and starfish that normally lives in the mud. After storms their delicate “shells” are washed up.
Has the new visitor centre finished yet? It’s getting close and we hope that it will be finished and open in some form in May. More detail here
Can you tell us a little about how the reserve is maintained, the numbers of volunteers and staff. We have three Land Management staff supported in normal times by about 30 volunteers. There is a lot of detail and more resources available here
What's the frequency of the Nathusius Pipistrelle? 39 kHz is the peak frequency, but more detail is here
Are there ways in which sites along the coast can either work with the Rye Harbour group, or benefit from forms of introductions to improve site qualities and restoration, or rewilding? There are several routes to co-operating with other coastal sites that can be managed for wildlife. Sussex Wildlife Trust works with other NGOs and with private landowners and there is a sharing of experience among all 46 Wildlife Trusts. At Rye Harbour we have a management committee that meets three times a year and have representatives from several wildlife organisations including Sussex Ornithological Society and Dungeness RSPB.
Can I ask with regard to fluctuating bird species numbers, what are your priorities for local change? Our priorities are the species of “conservation concern”, which sadly is many. We are lucky to have a large site with a mosaic of habitats, but many of the species depend on the wider countryside. My personal priorities are the nesting waders and terns.
A recording of this talk (and other talks) is available here
Barry Yates, Reserve Manager