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Bird disturbance and its impact

Birds perceive people and dogs as a potential threat; when we get too close, the birds sense danger and stop feeding.  Birds who have been disturbed lose valuable feeding time and waste precious energy by walking, swimming or flying away. 

Over 52 million visits are made to the Solent coast each year, mostly by the 1 million people who live within 5.6km (3.5 miles) of the Solent. New housing will increase the number of visits to 60 million per annum over the next decade. As the coast gets busier with people, disturbance is happening more frequently and has a greater impact on the birds.  

 

Precious time and space to feed and rest

For many birds, feeding time is limited to around low tide. Birds who feed in mudflats, saltmarsh and shallow waters can only reach their favourite foods when the tide is out. At high tide they need to rest in a safe quiet location to conserve energy and wait for the next low tide. Some birds are also restricted to feeding during daylight hours, which during the winter can be a short window. On some days, when these two factors are combined, with a high tide coming in the middle of daylight hours, birds can struggle to find any time to feed at all! 

The impacts

When a bird perceives a threat, they become alert and raise their heads. The time spent with their heads raised, is time that should be spent feeding, building up energy reserves for the long migration back to their breeding grounds. If the threat does not go away, the birds will either walk, swim or fly away. This activity actively wastes their energy reserves. 

Another impact is that the birds feel stressed, this may not be as noticeable, but can last for a long time after a threat.  The effects of stress are a faster heart rate and a rise in body temperature; these changes cause a bird to use up more energy than when it is at rest.  The more time spent stressed, the less energy you have for everything else.  

If disturbance happens regularly, the birds may avoid areas completely, leading to more competition for food and resting space elsewhere. If all of the birds in the Solent are competing for a smaller amount of food, some birds will be unable to find enough to eat and go hungry.  The number of safe places for birds to feed and rest is becoming increasingly limited. 

If the birds are unable to feed and rest undisturbed, they may not survive the winter or make their migratory journey back to their summer breeding grounds. Those that do complete their migrations, must arrive in a healthy condition in order to breed and produce new members of the population. Without new members of a population, numbers of these amazing birds will decline. We can all make sure that the birds in the Solent have lots of space to rest and feed while they are here by following the coastal code.