Paddleboarders take a toll on bird breeding grounds

Owl understands from correspondents that this is perceived as an increasing problem in parts of the Exe and in the Otter estuaries. Paddleboarding has taken off as a new leisure and water sports activity and the estuaries are attractive in providing calm water.

Owl also hears that there are “educational” notices posted along the Lower Otter, but no bye laws restrict such disturbance.

It is an example of the increasing conflict between the leisure needs of an increasing population and sensitive and protected landscapes. The Pebblebed Heaths are sensitive just to footfall. Owl was surprised, therefore, to find planning permission granted for more holiday “lodges” at Woodbury Park Golf Centre just metres outside the 400 supposed development exclusion zone.

From the print edition of Saturday’s Times:

The rise in popularity of kayaking and paddleboarding is damaging important bird habitats, conservationists warn.

Remote parts of harbours and estuaries that were once rarely explored by people are now being visited, with native sea birds driven away from feeding and breeding grounds.

Novice paddlers are being alerted to the effect they can have on wildlife habitats. Poole Harbour in Dorset — an area of international importance for wildlife conservation — has been badly affected. It has three nature reserves run by the RSPB, National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust on one side and watersports businesses on the other.

One owner said that demand for paddleboards and kayaks had soared since the first lockdown ended last year.

Peter Robertson, senior site manager of the RSPB’s Dorset reserves, said: “Sandwich terns, Mediterranean gulls and little egrets have breeding populations in the harbour and need undisturbed space to feed and breed.”

The charity Birds of Poole Harbour has tweeted a picture of a paddleboarder nearing a mudflat. It said: “15 mins before this paddleboarder arrived there were 306 avocet, 104 curlew & 88 oystercatcher on this mudflat.”

Luke Johns, Poole Harbour nature reserves officer for Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: “While we are sure that the majority of water users wouldn’t want to adversely affect wildlife, we anticipate another difficult year with this.”

He added that one problem area was Brownsea Island. “It takes some physical effort to get there, so numerous people rest on our shoreline, where there is no permitted landing.

“They disturb nesting birds … some clutches of eggs or chicks have undoubtedly been lost.”

On the Isle of Wight, the Newton National Nature Reserve has also been affected. Robin Lang, of the National Trust, said: “When birds see a human figure on a paddleboard coming towards them, they see that as a threat and take flight in great number.”