Gulls attack bird breeding colonies

By David GreenGULLS and crows attracted by feed put out for free-range pigs have been devastating nearby breeding colonies of wading birds.Now the fields used for open-air pig production have been converted back to grassland as part of a project aimed at protecting the nests of the wading birds and creating an environmental buffer to a nationally important wildlife site.

By David Green

GULLS and crows attracted by feed put out for free-range pigs have been devastating nearby breeding colonies of wading birds.

Now the fields used for open-air pig production have been converted back to grassland as part of a project aimed at protecting the nests of the wading birds and creating an environmental buffer to a nationally important wildlife site.

Free-range pigs have been causing problems for the Walberswick National Nature Reserve, managed by English Nature, the Government's wildlife agency.

Gulls and crows attracted by the feed put out for the pigs were preying on the eggs and chicks of wading birds nesting on the reserve's marshes.

Heavy rainfall also brought a risk of effluent from the pig fields polluting dykes on the reserve and, ultimately, endangering reedbed areas that support the rare bittern and other important wildlife.

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Now, with the co-operation of the landowner Sir Charles Blois and his son Andrew, about 350 acres of former pig field have been converted back to grassland to create an environmental buffer zone.

The project has been made economically viable for the landowner through payments available via the Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme - aimed at restoring the traditional landscape of lowland England.

English Nature also offered top-up payments for the first 100 acres to be converted under a wildlife scheme to encourage the restoration of sheep grazing.

Richard Rafe, Suffolk team manager for English Nature, said: “The last few breeding seasons were disastrous for the waders.

“We felt that the availability of pig feed was maintaining artificially high populations of gulls and crows in the area. They were not only eating the pig feed, but swooping down on the eggs and chicks on the marshes.”

Adam Burrows, English Nature site manager, added the pigs had now been moved half to three-quarters of a mile inland and the gulls and crows were no longer proving a menace to wading bird colonies.

Andrew Blois said the grassland reversion scheme appeared to be working very well.

“It is an integrated conservation system which fits in with our farming operations and helps English Nature with the management of the National Nature Reserve, which was created with the help of my grandfather in the 1950s,” he added.

Simon Hooton, director of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit, formed by local authorities to safeguard the Suffolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, said: “The grassland reversion scheme is a splendid idea, both from a habitat point of view and in landscape terms.”

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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