Beach is this week’s #writephoto prompt, with a great picture from KL Caley. Check other stories, articles and poems at New 2Writing.com.
It’s also my thought for #30DaysWild today. One of the Random Acts of Wildness I did a couple of years ago was to go paddling in the sea at the halfway point of my bird survey at Winterton Dunes. I miss that survey.
Today I’m turning my hand to a bit of wild writing, for a change (900 words). I hope you enjoy it.
In less than one kilometre (less than a mile) the beach changes its character from erosion to deposition. At the north end, past the Winterton gap and up towards Horsey, the concrete reinforcements protect the fragile dune system inland from battering waves and high tides. To the south, the sand bar gets wider, and wider, reaching its furthest from the dune ridge just before the beach car park.
When I first started my bird survey, which includes the walk along the dune ridge southwards, the sea was only about thirty metres from me in the north, and two hundred in the south. By the time I left, ten years on, the north was the same, but you could no longer see the sea’s edge, just guess how far it was below the sand’s horizon, maybe five hundred metres away.
For most of that time, it had been easy to see the birds on the beach; and to estimate their distance on the 10, 25,100 metre distance scale.
Ten metres was right next to the set route for the survey, a nice straight, well-defined path through the dunes. Judging 200 metres along it for each survey section gave me trouble.
In the first few years looking down from the path would show some scanty marram grass quickly giving way to soft upper sand, stacking up against the dune itself. Then some thick sand, usually dry and shaley, often with a mound running parallel to the sea, so that in storms the water could get right over it and leave pools up against the grass.
Some artist had collected debris from the beach and erected a kind of scarecrow out of it. That, together with blocks marking the ends of buried groynes were the only man-made points of reference.
One year when I visited, the scarecrow had disappeared, but bits were scattered around the area. It must have been the previous storm or surely they would have been swept further. A few years later, someone had built another scarecrow, but in a different place, which always confused me.
People walking their dogs tended to turn back before they reached that area, so it generally had some interesting waders around, sandpipers, turnstone, and my favourites, sanderlings, described in one book as little white birds running about to and fro like a football match at the edge of the sands. It’s such an apt description, it stayed with me, although I’ve forgotten the book.
The beach got wider as I walked south, but the narrow bit of grass was still only ten to twentyfive metres wide for many years. Too small to give much cover to the breeding birds. The little terns stayed in the beach area, sheltering under slabs of concrete and broken tunnels thoughtfully placed by the volunteers who monitored their colony. A few gulls would try to angle in, but most left them to their devices. Ringed plovers often took up residence among them, though.
It was always one of the questions in my mind as I started my April survey further inland. Which of the summer breeders would be back from their migration? A careful ear listened not only for the residents, but the almost-forgotten squeak of swallows, swifts and little terns. On the dune stretch you could see birds flying just offshore, gannets, skuas, even petrels and shearwaters monotonously winging their way north, or, perversely, cormorants going south. Gulls would fly around, disturbing the little terns plunging down for their fishing. And I’d inspect the waves for signs of birds bobbing up and down—were those gulls or ducks? And that strange dome shape: a grey seal’s head.
It was about eight years into my survey that I realised I could no longer see the birds at the edge of the beach from about halfway along the dune path. I stopped and took photos once, and compared it to the first I’d taken. The sand ridge was so far away it was hard to estimate. The marram had populated and stabilised nearly a hundred metres of new land, even more at the south end. It was quite a trek for those people parked at the Beach Cafe, waddling through the soft buff-coloured sand with their picnics, folding chairs and beach umbrellas.
The birds moved in on the grass area. Little terns seem to prefer it, however well camouflaged the chicks are for the sand and gravel beach. Wheatear stopped a while on their own journeys to their breeding grounds, although how one juvenile in fine sturdy first year plumage stayed there I don’t know. Meadow pipits moved into the long grass from the dunes proper, a sure sign the land was expanding.
I investigated who owns this land, newly developed from the sea. It’s all part of the Crown Estate, as is any other non-private coastline in Great Britain. It’s an odd thought, that only ten miles up the coast people’s homes are falling into the sea as erosion takes its toll. But here the sea is surrendering its load of stone, earth and sand as it swirls around a small corner.
And then it starts again, as it has for centuries, eroding past Yarmouth to destroy places like Dunwich, to deposit it all back again further south at Orford.
There’s nothing so constant on a beach as change.
© J M Pett 2021