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Analysis of the Ornithological Interest of the Study Area

The biological richness and productivity of the Thames Estuary is reflected in the number of waterbirds, particularly waders and wildfowl, which it supports. The estuary contains a variety of habitats, which increase the diversity of species that can use it. For example, waders and ducks are dependent on feeding on the benthic invertebrates of mudflats and shallow waters; dark- belied brent geese feed on eelgrass and algae; and an array of diving birds depend on small fish, crustaceans and molluscs sought in the channels at low water and over the mudflats at high water.

The Thames Estuary is of national importance for the populations of twelve species of waterfowl (dunlin, oystercatcher, redshank, black-tailed godwit, lapwing, shoveler, pintail, gadwall, shelduck, European white-fronted goose and little grebe). It is of international importance for the numbers of wintering and passage ringed plover, and wintering dark-bellied brent geese, knot, grey plover and avocet. The total numbers of waders and wildfowl present has at times exceeded 20,000. The importance of the Estuary for waterbirds is reflected in its SPA designations under the Birds Directive. In addition to the SPA designations, the Thames Estuary has been recognised as an internationally important wetland by being designated as Ramsar sites. The ornithological reasons for these designations are similar to the SPA citations.

Other Annex 1 species that regularly occur on the Thames Estuary and Marshes SPA in non-qualifying numbers are breeding common tern, and passage and wintering Bewick’s swan, golden plover, ruff, hen harrier, short-eared owl and kingfisher.

The table below summarises the overall waterbird assemblage of the Thames Estuary and Marshes SPA for the period 1998/99 - 2002/03 and shows the 5 year mean peak for these years. The data presented is only representative of the SPA itself and not the wider area that this review covers, furthermore the data are core counts undertaken at high water and, therefore, do not indicate the use of areas for feeding at low water.

Species 1% thresholds for national and international importance Thames Estuary & Marshes SPA (5-year mean peak 1998/9-2002/3) Mucking Flats SSSI (5-year mean peak 1998/9-2002/3)
  Great Britain International    

Shelduck

750

3000

1207.2

298.4

Black-tailed godwit

70

700

1513

206.2

Redshank

1100

1500

1059.2

332.2

Avocet

10

700

634.4

579

Ringed plover

290

500

534

102.6

Grey plover

430

1500

1308

449.8

Knot

2900

3500

4695.4

24.8

Dunlin

5300

14000

12951

5875

Lapwing

20,000 (5,000)1

20,000

3699

747.8

Total Waterfowl Assemblage

n/a

n/a

34634.4

6479.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Data provided by the BTO, 2004

The BTO monitor changes in waterbird numbers through a system of alerts based on WeBS data. The alerts system provides a standardised method of identifying the direction and magnitude of changes in numbers at a variety of spatial and temporal scales for a range of waterbird species for which sufficient WeBS data are available. Species that have undergone major changes in numbers can then be flagged by issuing an alert. Alerts are intended to be advisory and, subject to interpretation, should be used as a basis on which to direct research and subsequent conservation efforts if required (Maclean et al, 2005).

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