The last big chapter includes Walney Island. I visited the Duddon Estuary over and over during the making of Cumbrian Contrasts. The penultimate image is a handsome dunlin in summer plumage. I doubt I will ever encounter a dunlin so relaxed about a photo-shoot. High on remote moorland with cloud swirling and dispersing, we sat on a mossy rock and contemplated the beauty of the bird as he turned slightly to offer different aspects as rays of sunlight illuminated him. A ruffled white feather on his belly draws the eye and reminds me how strong the wind was that day!
Home again, I lingered and lingered over my pictures of dunlin and golden plover in summer plumage. Searched the internet until I found a recording that matched that trilling dunlin call. Watched British Trust for Ornithology videos on dunlin and golden plover. Enquired of Natural England why golden plover occurs only in the east of Cumbria. (an ecologist friend found me an expert opinion.) I learnt lots, and shall save it for the talks I’ll be giving around my book.
Dunlin breed in the uplands. There are flocks of dunlin overwintering on Walney Island as Joe Murphy reminded us in his talk on Species at Risk at Cumbria Wildlife Trust on 2nd December 2015. He is Senior Reserves Officer so he’s expert on conservation on Walney . Years of work could be undermined by Coastal Access and the government has funded Natural England to deliver the round-Britain coastal path here on the Cumbrian coast. It’s imminent.
Already, there are tensions. Conservationists who work on Walney see the impact of disturbance on wildlife and on habitat. What disturbance, I ask? (during the writing of Cumbrian Contrasts I’ve been considering this question) Disturbance from walkers, dogs, kayakers, jet skiers, fishermen, with litter, fires, 4 wheel drives, quad bikes, says Joe. Running a coastal path through these Reserves could exacerbate disturbance.
Walney Island is remarkable for its wildlife. These are important breeding grounds, overwintering ground and roosting for passage birds- all at risk whilst they’re moving through. Here is the only eider breeding colony on the west coast, and a winter roost. South Walney and Foulney Island are the only locations where little tern breed.
For wildlife to thrive it’s essential for people (and their dogs, if dogs are permitted) to keep to trails. South Walney has a resident warden , Foulney has a resident warden during the breeding season. You can see the difference, the litter of N Walney ( also a NNR) the dogs and dog mess.
. The ‘disturbance’ Joe Murphy spoke of isn’t confined to Walney Island. Neil Forbes Reserve Manager at Sandscale Haws paints a similar picture.
Starting with urban encroachment, I began to explore areas of Cumbria where you might think solitude and remoteness kept them free from trouble. Not true. On the cover of my book is an image of Mallerstang Edge. On radio 4 (was it Farming Today?) I recently heard of gangs hunting with dogs on moorland habitat managed for ground-nesting birds.
It is the wonder of the natural wonder I choose to emphasize in Cumbrian Contrasts. There are marvels all around us, and challenges too.
In April 2014, Joe Murphy was our guide on a Naturalists’ Field-trip to Howe Ridding Wood, west of Whitbarrow. A great day out, it features in Cumbrian Contrasts.