Suffolk Wildlife Trust: Winter visitors bring special protection to our coastline

Red throated diver Photo: Bob Coyle
Red throated diver Photo: Bob Coyle
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Focus on the red throated diver, by Suffolk Wildlife Trust in partnership with Seasearch.

The red throated diver is a winter visitor to the Suffolk coast. Large numbers often congregate in Sole Bay between Southwold and Thorpeness to feed in shallow inshore waters.

It is the smallest member of the diver family, slightly larger than a great crested grebe.

It is a slender-billed bird, typically seen resting on the sea with its head inclined upward; the red throat is only evident when the birds are on their breeding grounds. In winter it appears very pale with white neck and throat and a darker speckled back. They are usually several hundred metres offshore and so binoculars and telescopes along with patience is required to spot them.

On their northern breeding grounds their wild cries at night are often associated with madness and the moon’s cycles which gives them the alternative name of Loons (referring to lunacy) but their plaintive calls are evocative of remote wild places

Arriving in September, the birds follow their food source – migrating herring and sprat shoals. The birds are most easily observed when the sea is calm, feeding in loose groups they are constantly diving and so make accurate counts difficult. However, flocks can take flight when disturbed by ships or when they move to new feeding areas and therefore make accurate assessments possible. The concentrations in Sole Bay which reach some 5-6,000 birds, are possibly the largest in Western Europe. This status has been officially recognised with the area being designated as part of the Outer Thames Estuary Special Protection Area which provides some protection under European legislation.

Red throated divers breed in Northern Scotland, Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia and Russia, using shallow fresh water pools. Ringing recoveries suggest most of the Suffolk birds originate from the Scandinavian population. Birds have been known to live for over 23 years but over 50 per cent of all ringing recoveries are sadly from birds caught in fishing nets. Oil pollution and wind farms are also likely to have an impact on the wintering population.

You can help Suffolk Wildlife Trust secure better protection for Suffolk seas and wildlife by responding to the current consultation about the creation of Marine Conservation Zones by 31 March at www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org

For more information about Suffolk Wildlife Trust and many events call 01473 890089 or visit www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org

The volunteer diving organisation Seasearch is run by the Marine Conservation Society and supported by The Wildlife Trusts. For details visit www.seasearch.co.uk