[A] group of 22 dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers will be out looking for parcels around Morecambe Bay this winter and not just in the run-up to Christmas.
The Natural Ambassadors, a group of volunteers which works with the Morecambe Bay Partnership, will be donning instantly recognisable blue fleeces and heading, with binoculars and telescopes in hand, to sites around Morecambe Bay, where wader and wildfowl protection is of paramount importance.
All give their time for free and have an important role to fulfil – ensuring that not just ‘parcels’ of oystercatchers, but also herds of curlew, congregations of egrets, prayers of godwit, and a host of other bird species, manage to survive their winter stop-over on the mud flats and shingle that characterises the natural amphitheatre of Morecambe Bay.
The Natural Ambassadors play a great part in wildlife protection, being the interpreters who bring the birds to life in the public’s eyes. They informally explain the need to protect the various species of wader and wildfowl that congregate in the area between October and April, and sometimes longer, in a very friendly way, sharing their knowledge without preaching.
Amazingly, around 225,000 birds pass through Morecambe Bay each winter, with many having endured long journeys from places such as Siberia, the Arctic Circle, Scandinavia and Iceland.
The team of volunteers engages with the public around key sites and explains the importance of not disturbing the birds whilst they are ‘roosting’ – resting or sleeping whilst the tide is in – or feeding when it is coming in, or just going out. The two hours either side of high tide are the crucial times for feeding.
This is vital for bird survival. These waders and wildfowl need to eat a large proportion of their body weight to stay warm through winter and, if they are disturbed whilst feeding, it lowers their chances of taking in enough food, as they have less time at their seafood bar.
Equally important is the need to not disturb them whilst roosting. A bird wastes twelve times its energy if it has to fly to escape a danger, be that a human walking past, or a dog running on the sands. If they have to take to the air, all the effort they went to, to take in enough food, is wasted.
The Natural Ambassadors are also out and about on the coast, giving people interesting facts about the amazing birds that the Bay attracts. They have binoculars and telescopes at hand, which provide close-up viewings of the different species, and they offer helpful tips on how to identify different waders and wildfowl, to adults and children alike.
There is also the somewhat difficult task of counting the number of birds within different species at the various sites, to create a picture of overall migration patterns and any drops or increases in numbers. This can take several attempts, as the birds move around on the mudflats – something the Natural Ambassadors can explain all about when they give talks to special interest groups.
Mike Douglas, who co-ordinates the group on behalf of Morecambe Bay Partnership says: “Our Natural Ambassadors are already out and about talking to people especially dog walkers, who are often the first to pick up on what’s going on and have huge amounts of local knowledge. This feedback helps us to celebrate and protect the incredibly resilient and interesting birds that visit Morecambe Bay each year, or which make it their home all year round.
“Volunteers can go through additional training, so have tons of knowledge to give to the people they meet on-site. They also learn from each other on an ongoing basis.”
The birds already here will now stay until spring, so the team will be positioned at sites such as Half Moon Bay, Heysham, Hest Bank, Kents Bank and Piel Island, ready to share their insight. However, with so many sites in both Lancashire and Cumbria to cover, and a need for wader and wildfowl protection all year round, there’s always a requirement for more volunteers.
Mike Douglas says: “Our Natural Ambassadors come from many different backgrounds, from engineering to psychology, but all recognise what amazing birds we have around the Bay and understand why we need to protect both our feathered visitors and those species that are local residents.
“At first, many members of the public just see them as birds, but when they take a look through the telescope, hear some of the incredible facts that relate to each species, and appreciate just how far they have flown to get here, they are blown away. This sense of wonderment is essential to wader and wildfowl protection, which is why our Natural Ambassadors foster it.”
Anyone wishing to become a volunteer and join the Natural Ambassadors can contact Annabelle Kennedy at Morecambe Bay Partnership, on 07760 884357 or [email protected]
More information about the different species is available at http://www.morecambebay.org.uk/birds for those who wish to get out and spot some incredible birds and perhaps meet some of the blue-fleeced team armed with facts to fascinate.