Monday, 21 May 2018

Walking the Humber. Stage 14. Skeffling Clough to Kilnsea

I park at Sammy's point, south of Easington, and walk first east to Skeffling Clough to start the stage proper. It's a beautiful day, blue skies and a light cool breeze. The tide is high and in this area the saltmarsh is narrow, just a small beach at the base of the sea wall. The area forms an embayment and Spurn Head and its lighthouse is in the horizon.
 There is a constant singing of Skylarks, and the more intermittent song of Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers as I pass through territories. Reed Bunting and Linnet are also quite common.
Male Linnet in full breeding plumage atop Skeffling Pumping station.
Whitethroat singing.
Meadow Pipit.
Soak dyke north of Sammy's point with a pair of Mute Swans

A large mixed flock of Dunlin and Grey Plovers in full breeding plumage passes by and settles towards Welwick Saltmarsh. There are still some Brent Geese about, and up to four Whimbrel along the walk.
Dunlin and Grey Plover flock.
Brent Geese.
Grey Plover.
Grey Plover and Whimbrel.
Oystercatcher on the edge of the saltmarsh at high tide.

Spurn Bight
This wide embayment between Sunk Island and the Spurn peninsula is called the Humber Bight. It holds the most extensive mudflats in the Humber, about 3.5 km wide at low tide. If you have read previous posts you may not be surprised to know that proposals in 1860 were made to reclaim the Spurn Bight from Hawkins point to Spurn Head. These were never implemented due to prohibitive costs. However, more recent reclamation proposals were to use the bight to dump colliery waste to aid reclamation. These were eventually met with ecological considerations:
"The unique ecological character of Spurn Bight and the peninsula would be unlikely to survive total reclamation, although a partial scheme may preserve some important elements". 
Even as recently as 1979 the County Council couldn't 'be committed to the conservationist way'. Protection in the Humber estuary increased from a relatively small SSSI area around Spurn Head in the late 1960s to include most of the estuary coast by the late 1990s. When Natural England proposed in the late 1990s to designate 40,000 hectares of the Humber Estuary as a pSAC it wasn't a response to conservationists pressures but to criticism from the EU as the UK government had failed to implement SACs according to the Habitats Directive.

A disjointed landscape?
The Humber enjoys a high level or protection, but this ends a at the sea wall. Waders and other birds see no boundaries and many species regularly move between the estuary and the fields with the rhythms of the tide. Lapwing, Curlew, Golden Plover, Oystercatcher (above) and Shelduck (below) often feed or resting in the fields at high tide, so they are bound to be affected by the management regime.
Gulls and Crows do the same which explains the frequent crab remains on the sea wall.
The fields beyond the sea wall are farmed, often intensively. I watched a tractor spraying pesticide in one of the fields next to the seawall (below).
 A belt of more sensitively managed countryside around the Humber would be desirable, a some type of buffer zone. A small area though, Kilnsea Wetlands, has been created recently by the Yorkshire Wildlife trust and other partner organisations. It used to be 86 acres of intensively farmed land up to 2011. The reserve includes shallow scrapes and ponds and wet grassland and compensates for habitat loss due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Although I skirted the northern side of it today, I will visit it in my next stage.
Looking towards Kilnsea.
A ditch in between fields.
Two crows alert me to a raptor, a buzzard. It moves along and the crows leave it alone.
What's in the mud?
Mudflats attract many waders and other birds at low tide. At high tide the birds move to sheltered belts of saltmarsh. But what are they feeding on when in the mudflats? I collected a few empty shells and caparaces from a small area in the estuary beach at Kilnsea, where I stopped for lunch (above). They included Baltic tellins (Limecoma balthica), Peppery Furrow Shells (Scrobicularia plana), Cockles (Cerastoderma edule) and shore crabs (Carcinus maenas). Other very common organisms are ragworm (Nereis) and other worms, snails (Hydrobia ulvae and Retusa obtusa), mud shrimps (Corophium volutator) and many smaller ones like copepods and ostracods.
A horse by Sammy's point.
Sammy's point. 
I spot a Wall Butterfly on the sea wall, in an area with a beach and a little saltmarsh. I see another two later. 
Estuarine beach at Kilnsea. The sea wall at Chalky point has many saltmarsh plants growing on it (top shot).
I am very pleased to watch a pair of boxing hares, they chase all along a field on Kilnsea Wetlands and have a couple of skirmishes.
On the way back I have great views of four Whimbrels feeding on the exposed seaweed and muddy creeks near Sammy's point.
Muddy creeks near Sammy's point.
Today's walk, 9.7 km round trip.

More information
Gibbs, D., While, A. and Jonas, A. E. G. Governing Nature Conservation: The European Union Habitats Directive and Conflict around Estuary ManagementEnviron. Plan. A 39, 339–358 (2007).

Key, R. 1983. Ecology of the infauna of Spurn Bight mudflats: an area proposed for reclamation. University of Hull PhD thesis.
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