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House builders in the Stour and Orwell estuaries set to pay to protect coastal wildlife

PUBLISHED: 20:38 19 July 2018 | UPDATED: 20:44 19 July 2018

Speakers at the Stour & Orwell Forum 2018

Speakers at the Stour & Orwell Forum 2018

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Developers building homes in and around the Stour and Orwell estuaries will be asked to help fund measures designed to mitigate the environmental impact of population increases in the area, under plans being drawn up by councils in Essex and Suffolk.

The Orwell estuaryThe Orwell estuary

There are concerns that the more people who move to the area, the more disturbances there will be to wintering birds who feed off the worms and shellfish found in the estuary mudflats, which, according to Chris Keeling at Natural England, support internationally important numbers of black-tailed godwit, dunlin and grey plover.

Attendees at the Stour & Orwell Forum, held at the Royal Harwich Yacht Club on Tuesday and organised by the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB, heard from Hamish Jackson of Essex County Council’s Place Services and Clare Dawson from Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council that increased recreational activity in the form of walking, dog walking, water-skiing and boating is expected near the shorelines of both rivers in years to come.

The councils are working together to develop a policy that will ask house builders to contribute a set amount per dwelling they construct within a 13km radius of the estuaries. The money, which will be a voluntary payment yet decided on, will be added to funding from central government to pay for a range of mitigation measures that are being considered, such as awareness raising activities, new staff to engage with dog owners to discuss their responsibilities and the establishment of zones for water sports.

The councils have taken inspiration and are drawing lessons learnt from a similar project called Bird Aware based in the Solent, a wildlife rich area on the Hampshire and Isle of Wight coasts.

Sunset over the River Stour estuary at Mistley.   Picture: David LammingSunset over the River Stour estuary at Mistley. Picture: David Lamming

Representatives from the project, Anna Parry and Karima Englefield, attended the forum and shared their experiences since it was launched last year.

The Birds Aware programme asked developers to contribute funds on a sliding scale - from £337 for each one-bedroom house built to £880 for a five-bedroom house - which helped to pay for staff resources, and public education and awareness raising activities.

Ms Parry said that almost three-quarters (71%) of disturbances of coastal birds was caused by walkers and dog walkers who went too close to flocks and disrupted their feeding and resting schedules, potentially lowering the birds’ energy levels and their chances of surviving winter.

“Levels of disturbance were determined by distinct behaviours not numbers of people,” she said.

Ms Englefield said Birds Aware staff had been a pro-active over last winter, engaging with dog walkers and other visitors and that this approach, offering dogs treats to break the ice with owners and using “positive language”, was found to be more effective that putting up imposing No Entry signs and ordering people to keep out.

Ms Parry added: “Our aim is to create a coastline where people’s recreation does not impact over-wintering birds.

“We are not asking people not to come, just to be a little more considerate when they do.”

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