Wading Birds at Studland Bay and Poole Harbour

Sandscale Haws Sanderling

One of the largest natural harbours in the world, Poole Harbour is a haven for wildlife.

A Special Landscape

Poole Harbour and the surrounding landscapes form a diverse habitat for wildlife. The expansive lowland heathlands, the complex wetlands and estuarine systems surrounding the harbour, and vast sand dunes that you’ll find at Studland Bay support a variety of species that depend on this area.

In the past, Shell Bay was home to a large gathering of 4000-6000 waders including Dunlin, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Ringed and Grey Plover, and Bar-tailed Godwit. Most of them spending time here between September and March. Now, Shell Bay attracts just a handful of birds.

Wading birds migrate thousands of kilometres each year, moving between breeding grounds in Northern Europe, to over-wintering grounds further south. Upon their arrival in places such as Poole Harbour, they need undisturbed areas to rest on the high tide, as well as food rich, quiet areas to feed during the low-tide.

We’re partnering with Birds of Poole Harbour, Natural England and the Birding and Recreation Initative (BARI) to install a protective wader fence with the hope that over-wintering birds will feel safe enough to start roosting in large numbers in this area again.


What happens when these birds are disturbed?

If birds are repeatedly disturbed, they’ll abandon favoured roosting sites and not return in following years. It’s vital for birds to be able to feed and roost in quiet zones as they need to keep all their energy reserves as high as possible for their long migrations.

If birds are forced from traditionally safe roosting and rich feeding areas, they’ll be pushed to less productive sites where food availability may be reduced.

What are we doing?

Poole Harbour is a designated Special Protection Area, therefore creating safe havens for our over-wintering waders is vital. To help protect and restore this important roost site at Shell Bay, we need to learn to share these unique landscapes with the wildlife that depend on them.

In autumn 2022 the trial ‘Protective Wader Fence’ will create a sanctuary for roosting birds away from walkers, dogs and horses and anything else that might disturb them, where waders can quietly roost during the winter.

It will also provide an opportunity to see what species take advantage of these safe spaces and could potentially set a framework for similar installations at other busy sites in Poole Harbour.

A 200m by 40m area has been selected at Shell Bay for the trial, which will be marked out with a fence made of wooden posts and sheep netting.

There won’t be a blockage to the coastal footpath. You will be able to walk on both sides of the wader fence during most times of the year. It is only during a high Spring tide, that you may not be able to walk on the sea side of the fence. We’ve mapped out the area, the orange shows the coastal footpath and the yellow box shows where the wader fence will go.

Shell Bay showing where the protective wader bird fencing will be situated.
An aerial photo map of Shell Bay showing where the protective wader bird fencing will be situated.
Shell Bay showing where the protective wader bird fencing will be situated.

Arty Birds are Coming

Eight arty birds, painted by local youth groups and schools, are making their way to Shell Bay in April to raise awareness of this exciting project and to help explain why this protective wading fence is so important to restore the migratory population of birds to previous numbers.

You can help the waders by:
•    Not approaching or disturbing the wading birds
•    Looking out for wading birds, and changing your course or plans if need be
•    Keeping your dogs under control throughout the year and on a lead of up to 2m from 1 May – 30 September

Find out more about Birds of Poole Harbour and Purbeck Heaths NNR