Important Bird Areas: The Wash

Published on 11 January 2020 in Main articles

Rob Lucking

Abstract The Wash, straddling the counties of Norfolk and Lincolnshire, is the most important estuary for wildlife in the UK. It supports a peak count of over 350,000 non-breeding waterbirds, including internationally important numbers of 17 species. With a little planning, it can reward visitors with magnificent wildlife spectacles such as high-tide wader roosts and the morning and evening flights of Brent Branta bernicla and Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrynchus. The Wash has been subject to significant threats in the past through a long history of land claim and over-exploitation of shellfish, but since the introduction of stronger legal protection and better regulation, these particular threats have reduced. Nevertheless, there is evidence that dredging for shellfish may have caused a shift in the shorebird assemblage from one dominated by shellfish-feeders to one dominated by birds that feed on worms and other small invertebrates. While land claim has now stopped, sea-level rise and isostatic change may lead to demands for bigger sea defences. The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is a further concern, should the legal protection through conservation legislation be weakened.

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Red Knots at Snettisham, Norfolk, August 2017. Les Bunyan