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Title: The restoration of intertidal habitats for non-breeding waterbirds through breached managed realignment
Author: Crowther, Amy E.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2682 7479
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2007
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Conservation of intertidal habitats in the UK is vital in order to continue to support nationally and internationally important populations of non-breeding waterbirds. Historic reclamation for agriculture and industry has resulted in the loss and degradation of large areas of these intertidal habitats in estuaries and they continue to be threatened by sea-level rise. Managed realignment is one method which is increasingly being used to restore intertidal habitats. As managed realignment is a relatively new restoration technique, the extent to which knowledge of the biology of estuaries is applicable to managed realignment sites is unclear. Habitat restoration is often unsuccessful or incomplete, so a detailed knowledge of both the natural system and the characteristics of restored systems will usually be necessary to recreate fully-functional estuarine habitats. This thesis focuses on Nigg Bay Managed Realignment Site (Nigg Bay MRS), the first managed realignment site in Scotland, and follows the first four years of ecological development to gain an understanding of how breached realignment can be used to restore intertidal habitats to support non-breeding waterbirds. This thesis has six major aims: (i) to describe the development of saltmarsh, (ii) to describe the development of intertidal flat, (iii) to describe the colonisation by non-breeding waterbirds (iv) to determine how tidal cycle and weather affect patterns of waterbird use, (v) to determine which factors affect the spatial distribution of waders and finally (vi) to determine the patterns of use by individual birds. Four summers after the re-establishment of tidal conditions, almost all of the saltmarsh species recorded on the nearby saltmarsh had colonised Nigg Bay MRS, although recognisable communities had yet to establish. Three winters after the re- establishment of tidal conditions in Nigg Bay MRS, the sediments had a significantly smaller particle size and higher organic matter content compared to the fine sands of the adjacent intertidal flats. The intertidal invertebrate community also differed from the adjacent intertidal flats. Nigg Bay MRS attracted large numbers of non-breeding waterbirds and supported each of the most common wader and wildfowl species present in the wider estuary. Nigg Bay MRS performs a number of important functions for non-breeding waterbirds by: (i) providing a foraging and resting habitat when the tide is absent and intertidal sediments in Nigg Bay are exposed; (ii) providing a foraging resource as the tide passes over the intertidal sediments within the site once the intertidal flats in Nigg Bay are inundated; and (iii) providing a high tide roosting site. On days with low temperatures and high wind speeds, more waterbirds use Nigg Bay MRS, suggesting that it is likely to be providing sheltering benefits. Nigg Bay MRS also provides top-up feeding habitat. The factors that often influence the spatial distributions of waders in estuaries appear to be operating within Nigg Bay MRS. Wader densities are greater on the intertidal flats when they are accessible than on the saltmarsh. Wader densities are also greatest close to creeks and drainage channels, possibly due to higher invertebrate densities, more accessible prey or sheltering benefits. Colour-ringing and radio-tracking of Common Redshank established that Nigg Bay MRS has a subset of regular users, including both adults and juveniles, and the wader assemblage at night may differ from the assemblage during the day. These findings are discussed in terms of the implications for locating, designing and managing future managed realignment projects.
Supervisor: Winterbottom, Sandra J. ; Bryant, David M. Sponsor: RSPB ; University of Stirling ; SNH
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: managed realignment ; waterbirds ; waders ; wildfowl ; redshank ; managed retreat ; saltmarsh ; restoration ; intertidal ; Nigg Bay ; Cromarty Firth ; invertebrates ; Water birds Effect of habitat modification on ; Water birds Ecology ; Cromarty Firth (Scotland) ; Redshank ; Charadriiformes