Morecambe Bay is vast; the Lake District and Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty tumble down into its marvellous mudflats.
Mud might not sound particularly appetising to us, but it draws in quarter of a million birds a year. Morecambe Bay mud is a canteen - it is packed full of cockles and shrimps and lugworms, mussels and more. Tasty morsels to feed a variety of appetites. Curlews, dunlins, black-tailed godwits, redshanks, swirling flocks of knot, and oystercatchers in abundance feed on the estuary. Their differing beak lengths and shapes allow them all to find food within the mud layers.
Morecambe Bay is one of the most important places for birds in Europe and so is designated a Special Protection Area.
There are several places to view the brilliant birdlife of the Bay. One option is here at Hest Bank. Head for the car park at Shore Road, Hest Bank, LA2 6HN (please note this is not an RSPB car park). From here you can spot a variety of wading birds, ducks and geese that call Morecambe Bay home.
Many of the birds here have flown thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to spend the autumn and winter months here. Others use the site as a service station to refuel on their migration north or south. While some birds spend the spring and summer months here and use the saltmarsh to raise their families.
The over-wintering birds come to feed or to ‘roost’ (rest and conserve energy). Winter is a particularly stressful time for these birds, some of which may have lost half of their body weight during migration. They need to be able to rest and feed on the marshes and mudflats undisturbed, to regain condition and put on enough weight to survive the winter and make the migration back to their breeding grounds in the spring.
Unfortunately, the birds here are often unintentionally disturbed by human activities such as dog walking, walking, birdwatching, drones, model airplanes and kites. The birds perceive these to be predators and so the effect of this disturbance is great.
Disturbing birds does more than simply causing them to fly away; it uses up their energy reserves, decreasing their chances of survival. Once disturbed, birds take a long time to settle and will remain alert for a long time afterwards. This means they cannot rest properly after a disturbance event.
In the breeding season, disturbance often causes parents to leave their nests or young, exposing their eggs or chicks to the weather and to predators and reducing their chances of survival. The birds here nest on the ground and because their nests and young are very well camouflaged, it is very easy for visitors to unintentionally disturb or damage them without being aware that they have done so. This video here beautifully illustrates the unintentional devastating impact that can be had.
How you can help
If visiting Hest Bank, please be aware that at high tide, birds need to rest and conserve energy. You can really help them in a few simple ways:
- - Keep a respectful distance away from flocks of birds.
- - Keep dogs on leads to avoid the birds becoming spooked.
- - Don’t fly model aircraft or kites over the saltmarsh or mudflats.
- - Use of personal or commercial drones on or over RSPB land is not permitted unless specifically granted by the site manager.
Hest Bank is a not far from our parent site Leighton Moss - please visit the website here for contact details.