Oystercatcher Wash Out?
News from the BTO
13th January 1997
Ornithologist Nigel Clark, of the British Trusty for Ornithology, is predicting a disastrous winter for the Oystercatchers wintering on the Wash. The Human fishermen, who harvest the cockles and mussels that the birds rely on, are also in for a hard time and the Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee is bringing together information on this failing resource.
Writing in the new copy of BTO News Nigel explains that the long-term data on Oystercatchers on the Wash shows a staggering decline from over 45,000 less than ten years ago to less than 15,000 now. This is related to recruitment in the shellfish populations with the annual spat fall being bad for cockles since 1992 and poor mussel recruitment for ten years. The birds caught for ringing by the Wash Wader ringing Group seem to be healthy - for the moment.
The last time there were really poor shellfish populations, in winter of 1992/93, the Wash still held a population of 30,000 Oystercatchers. Many of these were ringed - as they are now - and at its worst (January 1993) two dead ringed Oystercatchers were being reported every day. These birds, usually found feeding on the estuary sand and mud, were found feeding on lawns in gardens and even on the grass of roundabouts.
The reasons for the poor shellfish stocks are unknown but other estuaries along the East Coast are not suffering in the same way. Are these normal biological fluctuations? Is marine pollution to blame? Are there problems effecting the rivers running into the Wash which drain 13% of England? The birds and the fishermen both need urgent answers before the former lose their lives and the latter their livelihood.
Note: The figures for the wader populations on the Wash come from the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) which is a partnership between the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.