Broadcast date: Monday, 18 October 2010, 8:00PM – 8:30PM
Episode 2: Shingle Shore – Ray Mears explores the north Norfolk coast in East Anglia
In the second episode of the series, Ray Mears explores Britain’s shingle shore, which covers 10,000 miles of our coastline. Ray is on the north Norfolk coast in East Anglia, one of the few places in Britain where large areas of shingle beach, sand dunes and salt marsh sit alongside each other.
Norfolk has been dubbed Britain’s bird watching capital, due to the outstanding variety of birdlife here throughout the year. The area is perfectly placed to receive the thousands of migrating birds that pass through twice a year on their way to and from Africa and the Arctic.
Ray walks carefully across the beach, as Oystercatcher birds camouflage their nests in the shingle. With their bright orange eyes and bills, these striking wading birds are noticeable for their sharp ‘piping’ call. Ray spots two birds piping as part of a courtship display, with their heads bowed and their bills pointed downwards. He reveals that once they mate, Oystercatchers pair for life and will return to the same spot year after year.
The landscape with its wide open skies is stunning. But for plants, life on the sea-shore can be a challenging existence. Ray explores the wind-sculpted sand dunes to reveal how some plants have adapted to the harsh wind and salty air. As well as the hardy marram grass that binds the sand dunes together, Ray finds Sea campion that grows in a cushion to protect itself from the onshore wind and takes a bite out of the edible curly dock.
Ray also explores how the coastline is in constant flux, changing all the time. In 21 years the area has changed from shingle to salt marsh and then to scrub. Within one generation the landscape here can totally change.
Ray heads to the bird epicentre of the local area. Blakeney Point is home to one of Europe’s largest colonies of Sandwich Terns who stop over on their long journey south, to their wintering grounds in Africa. They breed in very dense colonies as a defence against predators. Ray witnesses a courtship display where a male Tern offers a fish to a female.
Ray also finds a colony of Sand Martins who make their home in the steep cliffs lining the coast. The martins excavate deep holes in the cliff-face in which they lay their eggs. Inside the burrow, newborn chicks are dependent on their parents to bring them food.
He also hunts for natterjack toads, the tiger beetle and moths. As the moon rises in a clear sky, Ray goes out moth netting with Norfolk Wildlife Trust Warden Garry Hibberd. There are up to 100 species of moth in Britain.
Ray also meets local fisherman John Abbot who has been digging lugworms for bait from the coast for 40 years.
This unique and special shoreline is rich with plant and birdlife but the lack of a permanent food supply on land means the shore is noticeably lacking in mammals. So, Ray heads out on a boat to see a mammal which has made this area their home. Here he finds one of the largest colonies of common seal in the country. The sand banks, which are a mile offshore from Blakeney Point, are the ideal place for adult seals to haul out, to moult and pup.
Ray reflects on the work being done in the reserves. He says:
Some of the most important work done in the reserves is simply recording what’s here. Some of the wardens said that the early wardens didn’t bother to record some of the species because they were so common. And yet today, it’s an event if some of these things are seen at all. It’s really important that not only do we record what’s here but we ensure that the next generation have an understanding of what the environment is supposed to be like.