RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Endeavours to make sure shore birds can safely nest

The ringed plover is one of the birds you might see now on this week's walk around East Head.

Thursday, 12th May 2011, 11:34 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 5:51 pm

The painting by Sussex bird artist Philip Rickman is 75 years old and shows with its primitive style a moment on the Sussex shore, which is timeless.

It illustrates too the vulnerability of this shore bird, with its eggs laid on the shingle where we all walk. Would you see them before your foot crushed them out of existence? Hardly.

This is why the National Trust have made a token rope exclosure at the far tip of East Head and placed a notice warning: ‘Leave birds in peace. Don’t risk it’, showing a dog barking at a bird which has flown up from its nest containing young.

In that half-acre exclosure it is hoped the ringed plovers will safely nest. Will dog owners respect that? Possibly, even if they notice it in time. Still, it is worth a try.

A pair or two of ringed plovers do rear young somewhere in this dune and shingle strand.

There is the same problem at Church Norton on the harbour shingle bank where a token fence asks people please to respect the needs of shore-nesting birds.

Pilsey Island is fairly successful. A total of 60-70 pairs breed in Sussex along the coastline, most being on Rye Harbour nature reserve. They are also successful on Stakes Islands in Thorney channel.

In 1938 John Walpole-Bond found the bird ‘distinctly common, breeding on practically every suitable section of our shoreline, even to such public spots as the small shingle spits behind the front at Seaford’.

He mentions the ‘shingle spit at West Wittering only 150 yards in length by no more than 60 yards across now practically spoilt, where never less than a dozen pairs used to nest’.

See how East Head has been saved by the National Trust in their ownership since 1966. But they would be unable to get back the dozen pairs of ringed plover with the thousands of people and their dogs who swarm around the place on fine spring weekends.

In those far off days 100 years ago when the place was left to a few fishermen, the ringed plover had a variety of Sussex names: sand lark, martine dotterel, ringed dotterel, stone runner, shultener (shell-turner) and wideawake.

Look out for them. But you will have to be keen-sighted, because they blend in most perfectly with the pebbles and are hard to spot when they stand still.

By the way, have you spotted the mistake in this painting? It is extraordinary that such an expert could make such an obvious error.

But the eye of the nearest bird is ringed with a fine yellow circle. Such a feature is of course only found on the little ringed plover.

So keep those eyes peeled. Because seven pairs of those extreme rarities do breed in our county.

No-one will say where, but it could be on a sand spit near you...