Friday, 24 February 2012

Teesmouth & Cleveland Coast EMS: Bird disturbance surveys with Natural England.

I know it hasn't been long since my last update but I should really talk about my trip to Redcar before I get too busy (or maybe I am just using this as a useful procrastination tool... who knows?) Anyway, I have mentioned it before in a previous post but alas I shall repeat myself (hey, it beats reading a rather dry paper about IUU fishing... I need to find a better one) - As part of my MSc in Marine Environmental Management I have to undertake a 8-10 week project placement (not work experience per se, but a project) where I do research and subsequently write it up into a 5000 word report (essentially another dissertation). Well, I was in a little bit of a predicament with what I should go for and in the end I decided to go with Natural England (and INCA) and do a project assessing the impacts of recreational activities on the overwintering and migratory birds at the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast European Marine Site (EMS). This would mainly be through the use of spatial analysis (ArcGIS) and statistical analysis (oh joy ~ I can use either SPSS or, if I feel confident in doing so, 'R'). Well, after contacting the current EMS project officer, Katherine (who is sadly leaving at the start of next month) we decided on a date to go over some of the methodology and meet with some of the team, mainly to introduce myself and get some direction for my actual placement.

So, Tuesday morning I got up bright and early, jumped in the shower and made myself look quite respectable (I opted for practicality, comfort and a little bit of style if that's what you'd call it). I wasn't at all sure of the weather (come on, it's England, we can have all seasons in an hour) so boots and leather jacket it was. I wolfed down some breakfast (thank you lifesaver of a boyfriend), grabbed my Kindle for some light reading on the train (Little Women) shoved this and that into my bag and proceeded to train station with about 10-15 minutes to go. Note: This was during rush hour in York, i.e. very very busy indeed, particularly coming through one of the main roads into York... Still, I made it with about 5 minutes to spare (another big thank you to boyfriend who played taxis that morning) and flopped on the train for an hour and 5.

I met with Katherine at Middlesbrough station and we made our way to Redcar Rocks or Redcar 'Scars' as it is commonly known. We took a walk down the beach and set up just before the development of flood defence structures and just before the actual rocks.

Redcar Scars - flood defence development to the right

Behind where we took the bird surveys from - vertical pier, coastal area regeneration.

The scope was set up, binoculars were at hand and survey sheets were out - Katherine showed me how the methodology was actually done for the two hour survey (in summer, just one hour in winter was sufficient). It was important to do a bird count (species present and abundances of each) before the survey started. Species we were looking for included: cormorant, curlew, dunlin, knot, oystercatcher, purple sandpiper, redshank, ringed plover, sanderling, turnstone and then we could mark down other species. During the actual surveying of bird disturbances, we had to record the number of humans in and around the area, what they were doing (i.e. dog walking, angling, diving, bait digging, horse riding etc) and whether their activities disturbed any of the birds and to what extent. It was quite interesting anyway.
Redcar Scars - beautiful beach.
In the middle of our survey Catherine and Martin joined us from Natural England and I briefly introduced myself and we had a bit of a chat about the project. We then had a quick drive to another site where we could see the Corus Steelworks. They were pretty magnificent I have to admit. I didn't manage to get a photo of the whole site (or maybe I did, I'll have a root through my phone) but the whole of the area was covered (and I mean covered) in grass from the sand dunes. It was remarkable that a whole ecosystem, a stable ecosystem had successfully established on the waste products of such industry.

Redcar Corus Steelworks and the South Gare (I think?) sand dunes, an ecosystem built on the slag (waste products) from the industry.
We had a bit of a walk down Coatham Sands, Bran Sands and South Gare (it was extremely windy but pretty tranquil and the weather was perfect) and I really was in awe with the scenery. Unfortunately we arrived at this site at mid-tide so it was neither high or low tide. We couldn't actually do a survey due to this, however we did spot several hundred oystercatcher roosting on an exposed area of rock.

Once we had finished having a look around this site, we quickly piled in the car and head towards one of the booked rooms where we could meet Mike (also from Natural England), do the formal introductions to him and the rest of the team and discuss which direction I could take my placement. I still need to have a proper think about this but I have plenty of time. I then sat through their meeting reviewing the methodology and assessing whether aspects of it needed changing (simplification, replicates, further investigations etc). We then discussed my project and what I need out of it regarding the MSc assignment (I said I didn't know, Rach just forgot to check the VLE didn't she? Silly thing!) and I sat through their discussion of Katherine's Code of Conduct (CoC) that she had formulated - it looked great! It was a voluntary CoC for all recreational users of the beach, highlighting the problems of their activity, recommendations for where they should do it (i.e. further up the beach, away from feeding birds etc) and other considerations. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it even if I did go a little quiet when it came to discussing improvements. Still, it was a great experience for me to sit through a typical EMS meeting like that.

I'm currently in the process of penning an e-mail to those I met on Tuesday thanking them for the day and giving them a little more information on what my project requires and although it states that this is not work experience I would definitely like to get some work experience alongside doing my project. I mean, hey, I might not get a chance like this again!

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