Volunteers invited to join Night Birdwatch Weekend

PUBLISHED: 08:33 08 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:48 20 February 2013



Volunteers from across the region can take part in the Big Beachwatch Weekend mid-month to help conserve our famous beaches and the special wildlife habitats they provide

If its dramatic and beautiful coastline that youre after you simply cant beat the North East. Its special. So much so that
since the Northumberland coast was declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty way back in the late 1950s those endless miles of inviting empty beaches, punctuated by brooding castles, windswept rocky cliffs and a mosaic of isolated islands, have become
a worthy national highlight on the UK tourist trail.
But its not just landscape and cultural heritage weve got to sing about when it comes to celebrating the 135 square mile stretch of coast that forms the Northumberland Coast AONB. Whats sometimes overlooked is that our famous local seaside is extremely rich in coastal wildlife too. It provides vital habitat for a diverse range of amazing plants, birds, mammals and marine creatures as well as being the haven it is for holidaymakers and day-trippers.

Everyone knows and loves our coastal areas headline wildlife acts of course - the puffins, eider ducks, grey seals and the thousands of waders, geese and ducks attracted in by the rich food to be found on the mud flats.
But the Northumberland Coast AONB has so much more to champion too; from the cryptic colours of the shorebirds, camouflaged against the rocks and pebbles, to the wheeling noisy gulls, the scuttling crabs and tiny fishes hiding in the craggy rock-pools, the alien-looking jellyfish, left stranded on the beach after high-tide, to the endless shaggy carpets of shiny wet seaweed.
For ourselves we can lose all sense of time combing the rock-pools on Bamburgh beach - a favourite seaside place and pastime. Its a journey of discovery with our cameras in hand, picking our way carefully among the boulders searching for subjects to photograph among the seaweed and shallows. Common shore crabs, barnacles and blennies - the longer you look the more fascinating and compelling these habitats and the creatures they reveal can seem to be.
This is why annual national beach clean-up events like the Big Beachwatch Weekend provide a timely reminder of the need to protect our local seaside. The event, organised by the Marine Conservation Society, takes place on September 18 and 19, and is now in its sixteenth year.
Past Beachwatch events here in the North East have seen armies of local volunteers taking part in the big clean-up operation, timed to coincide with International World Ocean Clean-Up Day, busily picking up the assorted array of litter that invariably ends up collecting on our beaches and shores - whether deliberately discarded or simply washed in from elsewhere on the tide.
Beach litter can be a real eyesore - but for wildlife it can also be a serious threat to survival, especially when you consider the staggering fact that plastic litter has increased by 164 per cent on our beaches in the last 16 years.
As many as 14 local beaches from Druridge Bay to the Scottish Borders are expected to take part in this years Beachwatch event across the AONB, with volunteers pitching in from a wide cross section of the public, from the WI to RAF Boulmer.
Its the job of the AONB partnerships recreation and access officer Iain Robson to coordinate the event and supply helpers with all the necessary kit, including gloves and bags, they need to take part.
The key thing is that the volunteers are not just collecting litter theyre also monitoring the beach litter and recording it on a special standardised form so we can keep track of the problem across the country and gauge the big impact this can have on the local wildlife, Iain says. Ive been in the States and in Spain on the same weekend and seen people collecting beach litter there too. Its become a global event.
The need to reduce beach litter is clear when you discover what a hazard it can be for wildlife. Marine wildlife can get tangled up in plastic litter or can end up accidentally ingesting it. Its a huge problem because plastic never disappears or biodegrades. A seabird that comes across floating plastic litter can easily mistake the rubbish for food.
For example, a staggering 90 per cent of fulmars found dead around the
North Sea are said to have plastic in their stomachs and tiny particles of plastic are commonly found inside filter feeding animals and among sand grains on our beaches.
Beach litter represents whats out there in the sea, explains Iain Robson. And its what out there in the sea that were really concerned about, he says.
Plastic is a huge, huge problem, he explains. And although weve seen a decrease in sewage related debris
through greater awareness and the setting up of screening systems, fishing related debris, a bigger problem here in the North East than elsewhere, is also on the increase. We are working closely
with anglers on this.
Theres also the growing problem of cigarette butts. Since the smoking ban came in theres been an increase in the numbers of people smoking outside and a cigarette end dropped in Peebles, for example, can end up littering Spittal Beach in next to no time, he says.
Sadly Iain is going to be relaxing on a beach in Kenya on the weekend of this years Beachwatch event but promises hell definitely jump into action and spring off his sun lounger if he spots any stray items of litter cluttering the sand while hes out there.

What you can do to reduce the problem

1.Try to use less plastic. Micro plastic particles in the sea are ingested by filter feeding animals which are then eaten by bigger fish. Its thought the chemicals in the sea attaching to plastic can be cancer-causing, so theres a worry there could be a problem for us too if this gets in the food chain
2.Follow the message of the Marine Conservation Societys Dont Let Go Balloons campaign. Although its claimed balloon are photo-degradable and will break down on land after several days its a different story if they come into contact with sea water. Chemicals in the sea attach themselves to the balloons and they end up taking six weeks to break down. In the meantime marine wildlife can get entangled in the long ribbons attached to the balloons and may even ingest the balloon thinking its a tasty jellyfish.
3.Dont use the loo as a wet bin. One of the biggest sewage-related debris problems at the moment is cotton buds because even where screening systems are in place the sticks can go straight through. Something to think about perhaps, the next time your child picks one up and uses it as a sand castle flag pole! Bag it, bin it - but definitely dont flush it.
4.Take your rubbish away with you after a day on the beach or dispose of it correctly where bins are provided
5.Avoid using disposable barbeques

*For further information about Beachwatch events in the North East and how to take part in the beach clean-up visit the Marine Conservation Society website at www.mcsuk.org

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