Leisure use threatens river

WALKERS with dogs and boats on the river are causing disturbance to birds which could be driving them away from two of the county's internationally-important estuaries.

WALKERS with dogs and boats on the river are causing disturbance to birds which could be driving them away from two of the county's internationally-important estuaries.

Because of widespread concern over the decline in bird numbers on the Stour and Orwell rivers, research was carried out over three years to see what was upsetting the wildlife.

The results show a number of culprits and organisations are now being urged to work together to find a way to allow recreation and birdlife to exist side by side.

The research - commissioned by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Unit in a bid to understand the problems and carried out by volunteers, co-ordinated by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust - was reported to the Stour and Orwell estuary management group forum.

Investigations found recreational disturbance by people has a negative impact on the birds using the two estuaries - which are of international importance for wintering wildfowl and wading birds - and provided valuable information about the kind of activities that disturb birds and the locations where the disturbance is most likely to happen.

The information will be useful in determining the future management of the two estuaries,

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Bill Parker, Suffolk estuaries officer and acting manager of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Unit, said the aim was to create “a greater understanding of the complex management requirements of these outstanding but vulnerable wetlands”.

He said: “Meeting the needs of people while protecting the wildlife and tranquil character of the Stour and Orwell Estuaries is one of the most important challenges we currently face.”

The research, carried out over three winters from 2004 to 2007, found the Orwell was four times busy than the Stour but birds on the Stour were more sensitive to activity and more prone to fly away if disturbed.

Walkers, those with dogs, and boats were the most frequent activities and caused most of the disturbance recorded, but birds were most sensitive to relatively infrequent events such as shots, aircraft and bait diggers which caused greater numbers to leave sites.

The greatest disturbance occurred on mudflats on the Orwell that are favoured feeding areas for birds but where visitor levels were high and suggested disturbance may be having an impact on populations of birds in the estuary.

Do you think recreation on the rivers and their banks should be curbed to protect birds? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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