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Protection of the New Forest coastline

PUBLISHED: 15:43 20 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:43 20 June 2016

Calshot Coastwatch volunteer Ian Davies keeps a look-out over the busy waters

Calshot Coastwatch volunteer Ian Davies keeps a look-out over the busy waters

Archant

The New Forest coastline is a glorious place to visit during the summer months, yet protecting both its natural and man-made wonders is a busy job. Viv Micklefield takes a walk on the wild side to discover more

With its big skies and tranquil waters, the Lymington-Keyhaven nature reserve is the perfect get-away from the hurly-burley of Hampshire’s cosmopolitan towns and cities. However, as the lagoons and coastal grazing marshes become an increasingly popular retreat for both wildlife and people alike, this part of the New Forest is one of several which could see them on a collision course. And that’s why Karima Englefield and Charlotte Belcher are here. Since the New Year, these two newly appointed Solent coastal rangers have been taking stock of a 254km patch which extends from Hurst Spit in the east, all the way to West Sussex.

“This is a good site because it has clearly defined paths,” says lead ranger Karima, who was brought up in Winchester, and now lives in Fareham. “Our main concern here is dogs that might enter intertidal areas and the occasional photographer or water sports enthusiast who gets a bit too close to the birds. But really our role is to raise awareness of what’s here, by showing people the wildlife.

“Elsewhere it might be a different story, and what’s often astonishing is how unnoticed the birds go, until we point them out.”

“We talk to anyone and everyone,” adds Charlotte, continuing: “It’s all about being proactive rather than reactive.” The ranger, who currently lives in Romsey, is at pains to make clear that their priority, until now, has been to protect the hundreds of thousands of overwintering birds who then return to the Artic to breed. As Karima explains, it’s a challenging time for our feathered friends.

“The birds that come to the Solent between October and March have travelled a long way and then need to feed during daylight hours and at low tide. And each time they are disturbed, this feeding is interrupted.”

We briefly pause along our walk as two of the wading species found within the shallows of Normandy Lagoon are spotted. These are Black-tailed Godwits and Ringed Plovers. And there’s soon more excitement as a Redshank with its distinctive ruby legs strides into view.

While Charlotte is about to fly-off to begin a new study of breeding Terns for the RSPB, Karima has a busy summer ahead visiting every one of the 103 sites along the New Forest coast and beyond. This will enable her to identify any changes needed to the management of these areas, to protect this year’s wildlife visitors from the impact of a growing human population. And, just as importantly, to let people know how they can become the rangers’ eyes and ears.

“I met some of the Hamble Common volunteers recently and they were so interested - Hamble Point is one such area that needs careful management. And the Milford Conservation Group has also shared their experiences with us.”

For this job, you certainly need to be prepared to be out in all weathers. But, against the cries of Gulls and Oystercatchers circling overhead us this is, she admits, one of its attractions.

“I just love working outside and the area that we cover is so diverse, there are rivers, marshes, open coast, and everything changes with the tide. It’s great to have such an abundance of wildlife on our doorstep. Even if I won the lottery,” Karima says, “I think I’d want to carry on doing the same job.”

As the days warm up now’s the time to look out for Dartford Warblers and Stonechats perched on Gorse bushes around the reserve. And it’s not just a special place for birds: plants flowering on the seawall include Sea Pink and Rock Samphire, while dragonfly patrol the waterways hunting for insects, and cattle and New Forest ponies can be found grazing too.

It’s certainly a landscape worth protecting.


The Watch Keeper

Jutting out into the Solent, Calshot Spit’s colourful past is still visible with its Tudor Castle and historic aviation hangers hugging the shoreline. Yet soaring skywards is Calshot Tower, which since 2010 has become the National Coastwatch Institute’s busiest look-out station in the whole country - last year alone 76 incidents involving local water users were reported.

“Every one of the 90 volunteers here does a minimum of three watches a month and in six years we haven’t missed a watch!” says station manager Colin Lewis proudly, adding: “Most of us have an interest in the sea in one way or another, although it’s not a prerequisite - we might be yachtsmen, master mariners, or ex-tanker drivers, but regardless of experience everyone undergoes navigation training and must hold a radio licence.” That’s because the NCI has become established as a vital link in search and rescue operations. Long range binoculars at the ready, Colin and his team are on duty during daylight hours throughout the year, with the exception of Christmas Day.

“The most common incidents we come across are kayakers and windsurfers getting out into the main shipping channel, and when you have a high speed boat or tanker coming through they can’t always be seen. In that case, we either call the coastguard instantly or radio the boat’s skipper to report somebody in the water.

“It’s a very rewarding job and of course we have the most fantastic view, once you’ve climbed the 100 steps to the top of the tower.”


The Marine Archaeologist

The marine 1914-18 saw the New Forest’s coastal waters swamped with troop carriers, supply and combat ships. Inevitably, due to the forces of nature, human error and conflict, there were casualties. To preserve the memory of the 70-odd Hampshire and Isle of Wight wrecks, and the hundreds more decaying on the seabed between England and France, Southampton’s internationally renowned Maritime Archaeology Trust, which is currently celebrating its 25th year, has embarked on a Heritage Lottery funded investigation called the Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War.

“The fact that there’s so much heritage which people can’t see very easily because it’s below the water means it’s not so well understood. We’re looking to change that,” says project manager Amanda Bowens. “This means using historical documents held at the National Archives, the maritime collection held at Southampton Library and previous dive records - there’s also existing geophysical data that shows what we can expect to find on the seabed.”

However, as Amanda admits, it’s a challenging task: “One of the frustrating things about diving in this country is that it always has to take place during the summer months and even if the weather’s good top side, it can be a different story underneath. Last year we were incredibly lucky with the conditions, but you are often working with just a couple of metres visibility.”

Nevertheless the team, who are being helped in their research and fieldwork by over 100 local volunteers, has created amazing 3-D virtual dives of the WW1 wrecks surveyed, at sketchfab.com/maritimearchaeologytrust/models.


Plan your part

Protecting the New Forest coast can be a rewarding way to spend time within this ever-changing landscape. As well as those featured, other local volunteering opportunities include:

• Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust marine team’s Seasearch project. www.hiwwt.org.uk
• Lymington Town Tours’ guided Sea, Salt and Smuggling waterfront walk. www.lymington-town-tours.co.uk

More…

Chris Packham on his love for the New Forest - Saving the world’s wildlife is Chris Packham’s mission, but nowhere grabs his attention more than his favourite place, the New Forest says Peter White

Hampshire walk along the coast at Milford on Sea - Head to Milford on Sea this month for a long, coastal walk with great views says Steve Davison

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