That time again. Finished a term of school (not exams this time) and I needed something to escape to and wind back down to enjoy my summer break. Properly catch up.
So Monday morning (after the following Friday I broke up) I was off on the train to Spurn. Well it wasn’t that easy with three train changes, a bus journey and a lift in between but it was all worth it as I arrived at what is no doubt one of the most extraordinary places in the UK.
Even though I was immediately transported to pure bliss when I arrived, it was a little bit of a tense afternoon. When I first visited Spurn for a week last year I was amazed; part of me was regretting the fact that I’d never been before and the other was planning my next trip. It was one of the wildest and fascinating places I’d ever been too, and this was especially apt after five hours of chaos on the train when travelling up. After exploring, seeing new bird species, experiencing important seasonal events and phenomenons, viewing fantastic scenery, and learning so much it didn’t just get me properly hooked onto birding and further advance my deep interest in the natural world but I got a bug for the place as many do. After all it is the best place ever!
The word rural is shy of describing Spurn, it’s just plain wild and this is no doubt one of the reasons which makes it so magical and a hidden gem along the British coastline. However, the somewhat tense atmosphere of my first afternoon when I arrived was due to the anticipation of a result that could shatter this.
Spurn National Nature Reserve is part managed by the Spurn Bird Observatory and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust but over recent years division has uprose. Something I’ve never done on here before is openly criticise a wildlife NGO. Quite a few times I have subtly, for example about a need to pull together for conservation concerns as more needs to happen, but when there’s a need to speak up for wildlife preservation you shouldn’t care who’s toes your stepping on. Especially when it involves preserving a place as special as Spurn. Not just a place to enjoy birding but a lifeline for wildlife along the Humber Estuary and the East Coast.
Some may know what I’m talking about but the anticipated result was whether or not the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust would get their application approved for a visitor centre at Spurn. Does’t sound too much of a big deal, does it? A lot of nature reserves whether they’re Wildlife Trust, RSPB or others have visitor centres located on them across the country. The majority of them do a good job too. Attracting new people, welcoming them and educating them about the reserve and the wildlife there. As you can tell I’m certainly not anti-visitor centres and I know for sure neither are others but in the case for Spurn it was all about location.
Even though other alternatives were suggested to the YWT they seemed extremely adamant for their application. An application that was fortunately refused on grounds of visual impact and flood risk. Another failure which was not mentioned by those ruling though was their poor effort to communicate, recognise and engage with individuals who visit Spurn and the very strong local community. All of those are people who know Spurn and have been inspired by its wilderness, values and beauty. In my opinion the power of that passion won by their secure determination. A real community success story from locals and those who have stories from further afield.
It feels as though I’m describing a nasty ordeal between two sides which seems ridiculous with the YWT and SBO both being for wildlife protection and preservation but in this case and having seen the situation from an outside view, the YWT have really disappointed me.
Anyhow I thought I’d mention this to demonstrate the dedication of those who visit and enjoy the area which no doubt makes my visits even more enjoyable. From learning and being introduced to new species and events to feeling very welcome and at home.
The wildlife though. After arriving on the Monday I was asked to help cover some of the afternoon Little Tern warden shifts which I was all too happy to do! Unfortunately Little Tern numbers are declining and quickly becoming one of the UK’s rarest seabird and due to this for quite a few years now (since the 1970s) wardens have supervised colonies to reduce disturbance and increase numbers. Hopefully the project run at Spurn will have another successful year with chicks surviving. Not only was it exciting to be doing something very important for these birds but the location was brilliant for seeing other terns including Common, Arctic and Sandwich, and spend my afternoons watching waders. One afternoon a Little Stint turned up too which was a lovely surprise to watch scattering around the Dunlin.
Waders were a big delight of my trip this time. Living in the midlands I don’t get much wader excitement, once in a while maybe but being at Spurn last week felt as though I was being spoilt. At the moment wader numbers are gradually building up all round. Whether that’s on the Humber estuary, at high tide on the ponds or in the mornings during seawatching. Species mainly included Dunlin, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Redshank as well as Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper, then the highlights which were seeing more unusual Curlew Sandpiper and two lifers; Red-necked Phalarope and White-rumped Sandpiper.
At high tide it was incredible to see so many numbers and so exciting when scanning through each individual bird. One evening on the ponds at high tide there were easily over 9000 waders and sometimes this is equally as exciting as seeing a rarer species. It got even more so when a raptor soared through. A few times it was one of the local peregrines. I’m used to seeing them gliding over my head in Lichfield city centre but to see them easing through flocks of waders with a backdrop of the sea was a fantastic comparison!
On the subject of one of my favourite birds, another I got to see (and in very good numbers one day) were swifts. On my first visit to Spurn last year swifts made it so special for me. Watching hundreds of these dazzling shapes flying over everyday was one of the best experiences of my life. Unfortunately I missed out this year though but I was really pleased when one day we had just the right winds and over 1700 were counted flying south. They really are amazing birds and since I’ve come home my local neighbourhood group seems to have disappeared (see you next year!).
When spending my ten days at Spurn exploring it obviously wasn’t just birds that I had the enjoyment of seeing. Most mornings when walking up to seawatching for waders I came across Roe Deer running around and one of the local foxes. As well as seals out at sea, one morning we must of counted almost ten bobbing up and down in the distant. A highlight though was when I was walking back from Little Tern watching one late afternoon over caged gabions and a grass snake, that had been sunbathing, slithered directly beneath and disappeared between the rocks. As it did so it struggled. With it being quite a large snake it seemed to take for ages to make its way down but this meant I was able to get an up close view. This made an afternoon of sizzling in the sun and being burnt to death all worth it!
I’ve obviously broken up from school for my summer break now and have a lot planned through the summer including a few blogs that I want to get done which I’m looking forward too. I’m also returning back to Spurn next week to enjoy another few days.