Once I cross the breach, I walk on the estuary side on the beach, which shows a succession of saltmarsh plants.
Spurn is very well known for bird migration, but is also a hotspot of insect migration with an impressive list of dragonflies and butterflies, including rare migrants. Since 2013 there has been a very successful Migration Festival organised in early September by Spurn Bird Observatory Trust, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Westmere Farm at Kilnsea.
Dunes are a large part of the peninsula. Marram Grass Ammophila arenaria and Sea Buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides are abundant. In the dunes there are plenty of specialist dune invertebrates. George de Boer quotes this 1567 description of the ecology of Spurn:
'Ravensey Spurn is a sandy hill environed and compassed about upon the sea side with the sea and on the other side with the Humber containing six acres whereupon is neither arable land, meadow, nor pasture, wood, underwood nor trees neither anything else but only a few small bents and short scrubby thorns of a foot high not worth felling, which Ravensey Spurn is at ordinary spring tides almost overflown and of no value. Also there is another hill nigh adjoining the Ravensey Spurn called Conny Hill environed with the sea containing four acres whereon is neither arable land nor trees also of no value'.
Dynamic spit system
Spurn is in a balance of erosion of the low glacial till cliffs and sand and shingle deposition. Historical accounts and maps give us a glimpse of how much change there has been, with the narrow neck at times breached by storms or broken into a series of shallow banks, with an the island at the point slowly shifting position westwards. In the Middle Ages, a precursor of the island had a busy port and town, Ravenser Odd -with over 100 houses and fields. The town entirely succumbed to the sea in the few decades up to 1360. The spit topology and movement is also influenced by the erosion of the soft till cliffs of the Holderness coast to which it is anchored. Erosion is highest between Easington and Kilnsea (estimated at more than 2 m per year). Coastal erosion provides the sediment that, transported southwards by longshore drift, is deposited along and beyond the spit, increasing its length. As the coast erodes the neck becomes more exposed and can be breached by winter storms. Since Victorian times, sea defences with groynes and sea walls, which now are not maintained, have also affected the development of the spit.
Looking towards the breach
Future: Spurn island?
Spurn has existed as a spit before, but several breaches in historical times resulted in Spurn island being formed. On 5th December 2013 a tidal storm surge breached the neck of the spit, destroying the road and services linking the mainland to the coastguard station in the head itself. Since then, the YWT regularly runs trips in a Unimog vehicle to link the mainland to the point and the lighthouse, whose refurbishment finished after the storm breach. The 'breach' can be flooded at high tides so it is advisable to check tide times as crossing when there is water on the breach is extremely dangerous.
A lone Dark-bellied Brent Geese by the breach.
It was great weather for invertebrates today, with long sunny spells. Many butterflies and other insects were about.
A Silphidae beetle for ID.
There were many Dune Chafers, Anomala dubia, on the dunes at the very tip of Spurn.
Early in the morning the sandhoppers, Talitrus saltator, were very active on the beach.
Dune robber fly, Philonicus albiceps.
A brown-tailed moth caterpillar climbing the lighthouse. These caterpillars form silk tents in bushes, which they defoliate. When large, they abandon their tents in search of food and pupation sites. They are very common at Spurn hairs are irritant. Today there were not many about.
There are many plants flowering. I took a selection of photos.
Sea Bindweed, Calystegia soldanella.
Restharrow, Ononis repens.
Pyramidal orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis, flowering at Chalk Bank.
Whitethroats provided the soundtrack today. Singing scolding short chattering phrases from atop bushes or posts. They were joined by other resident birds: Reed Buntings, Linnet, Wren, Carrion Crows, Magpies and Meadow Pipits are also breeding around Chalk Bank and Potato Fields. In the scrub at the point there was even a Blackcap singing.
The hide at Chalk Bank, overlooking a bank and pools where waders and gulls roost at high tide.
I counted about 200 Oystercatchers at Chalk Bank...
...and two Curlew.
An assortment of gulls, including Herring, Lesser Black-back and Great Black-backed gulls loaf on the sand bank. Common Gulls, Black-headed gulls and Sandwich terns were also about.
A pair of Shelduck matching their surroundings beautifully.
Linnet with young (on the left).
Young Pied Wagtail near the tip.The walk on the path on Chalk Bank and Potato Fields was lovely, Small Heath, Red Admiral and Common Blues were about. On the background on the right the Heligoland trap, a funnel that allows to trap migrant birds, which are then ringed and released to understand migration.
The high and the low lighthouse at high tide.The lighthouses
A request for a lighthouse in Spurn is the second recorded in the British Isles, possibly as early as 1427 in what was known then as Raverser Spurn. The history of the various Spurn lighthouses, as there has been several, has been choppy to say the least, stirred by obstinate landowners and the unpredictable forces of nature changing the length and location of the spit, and emerging sand banks. A detailed account of their history has been written by de Boer. The current high lighthouse, a Grade II listed building, was erected in 1893 and restored in 2015. Today it was closed but it is regularly open to the public and you can climb to the top and enjoy great views over the peninsula and the estuary.
The tip of the peninsula widens into a spoon shape. It is surprisingly wide, over 200 m, and sticking out into the Humber is the jetty of the Humber Lifeboat Station (above). The centre of the tip is scrub of sea buckthorn, and other bushes and small trees. There are several mowed paths leading to the edge, where there are dunes covered on marram grass. I watch as large ships move onto the Mouth of the Humber and look across the estuary: this is the end of the walk proper, the end of the north shore of the Humber.
Path to the tip. A Speckled Wood flew away, not a butterfly I expected here.
Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillars.I walk around the eastern side of the peninsula. Two Ringed Plovers fly off from the beach, joining a dozen Sanderlings. A lone Knot feeds on a shingle bank, the Stony Binks.
The high dunes just before the lighthouse. There has been a lot of erosion near the lighthouse and I had to scramble up the dune to rejoin the path.
Back at the Warren
I walk on the road from the lighthouse and through the path at Potato Fields and Chalk Bank, back through the breach and to the Warren. I hang around Clubley's scrape to look at Dragonflies and then to the Discovery centre for lunch. After lunch I watch dragonflies from Canal Scrape hide. For the first time I see Emperor dragonflies mating and ovipositing.
A young rabbit relaxes on the Warren.
Teneral female Common Blue Damselfly.
A teneral Ruddy darter (I think!) near Clubley's scrape.
Linnet bathing on the new pond.
An Emperor dragonfly settles on the grass to eat its prey.
Black-tailed skimmer female, resting on the board walk to the Canal Scrape hide.
This Swallow, breeding inside the Canal Scrape hide was bringing some damselflies for its young.
Ovipositing Emperor dragonfly at Canal Scrape.
Today's stage: 13 km round trip. The end of Walking the Humber.
de Boer, G. 1964. Spurn Head: Its History and Evolution. Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers) 71–89 .
Roadhouse, A. 2016. The Birds of Spurn.