Last week we launched out to sea and made a trip out to Pewit Island. This is a very small nature reserve in the middle of Portsmouth harbour and one we have seldom managed to get out to.
There are records that in the past, pewit was a large black headed gull colony, until egg collecting finally sore the end to them. Since then and certainly in recent years, it has scrubbed over to create more and more unsuitable conditions for waders and wildfowl to roost.
It is important to set the context of Pewit island within the harbour to convey how important it is and how important it can become. It is the only island within the harbour. If you look at the three harbours of Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester, there are only a handful of islands with no human influence and that are fully cut off at high tide, it makes up one of these few. These islands are vital for overwintering waders to roost safely, away from disturbance and predation. They are also in peril from more frequent storms and sea level rise.
Suitability of these islands for waders is something that needs careful attention. Pewit, when we alighted this year, had a core of gorse, broom and bramble, blocking the sight lines that waders need to feel comfortable. This therefore had to be removed. The issue has always been getting out to the island to manage the ever encroaching scrub.
Thankfully we had to help of Wez from the RSPB who has a trusty little boat with a shallow draft, ideal for reaching the island and getting people and equipment ashore. He picked us up from the slipway in Fareham and we motored over with a few volunteers and some equipment on a rather blustery and damp Thursday.
The gorse, which formed the bulk of the scrub was leggy and easy to cut down so we managed to blitz through it, creating a large bonfire in the centre of the island. We also cut down the bramble and gorse and then started cutting the longer grass so that a short sward was left. The key is that the waders can sit comfortably and look in multiple directions so as to watch predators approach. Whilst we were there a peregrine bombed over, sending the remaining birds into a frenzy.
As we approached the island in the morning, 300+ oystercatcher were roosting on the edges as well as a number of curlew and brent geese. We took it as a good omen that a sandwich tern was fishing off the shore whilst we worked for the site has substantial potential to become a tern nesting colony, with very little work needed. there are a couple of shingle banks that already exist. Our hope is that with the gorse gone, the terns may feel more confident and take up residence.
Our biggest issue will be from people landing on the island. There is a history of groups sailing or kayaking over for picnics as well as anglers overnighting there. We hope to educate people on this and show them the importance of leaving this site undisturbed and left to prosper