The birds...

Publié le par Alain Livory

An inheritance we must preserve:
The birds of the Havre de Regnéville

For all those who do not know this splendid site, listed since 1989 for its landscape value, for those who haven’t read the book on the area published by Manche-Nature in 2002, I would like to give a short outline of the birds of the estuary and the direct and indirect threats on them from the project.

An exceptional diversity!

The Havre de Regnéville, which is the estuary of the Sienne and the Soulles is an ornithological site of regional, and in certain respects, national value. At least 207 species have been observed here, even though much less bird-watching is done than at Mount-St-Michel or the estuary of the Orne. The most valuable habitats for the birds here are the mudholes (for food), the sand banks (for resting), the salt marsh meadows (for food), sand dunes with dune-scrub for (nesting) and slightly less important, freshwater wetlands. The estuary is also important because it has mostly escaped development and Coutances, the nearest city is of modest size. Admittedly, tourism, the two seaside resorts Hauteville and especially Coutainville are close by, shell-fish culture and fishing are important economically but do not affect the birds much.

The category of birds most sensitive to the disturbance is the breeders. The rarest of these, the Kentish plover, suffers the most in spring from walkers, fishermen, dogs, horses etc. The erosion of the dunes, made worse by the increase in access points, damages the areas in which it breeds at the top of beach. For the plover, the constant lengthening of the sand spit at Agon is blessing, especially as it is less disturbed there by human activities than it along the dunes. Another breeding species, the shelduck, nests in the scrub and in rabbit holes. Other birds nesting around the estuary, on the grazed salt marsh, or in the fixed dunes and heath include turtle-doves, cuckoos, skylarks, spring wagtails, meadow pipits, wheatears, stonechats, fan-tailed warblers, Dartford warblers, lesser whitethroats and reed buntings. Some other species have almost disappeared from the estuary in the last two decades but this is explained more by the general decline of these species than by the changes in the site; these include hoopoe, red-backed shrike and corn buntings.

Wintering birds are pricelessly rich, particularly the water birds. Most famous of them is the Brent goose. In the past the estuary used to have only a few hundred birds of Siberian origin (race bernicla) and also a few North-American ones “light-bellied”. Now the variety hrota has increased and is in the majority, The Havre de Regneville is the most important site in continental Europe where these American birds overwinter, nearly 1000 of them. These birds, which are not hunted, must be absolutely respected and kept safe from any major disturbance.

Here is a list of the other nationally important water birds wintering regularly in the “havre”.  Birds which do not appear every winter are excluded.  The numbers in brackets give the average numbers. Red-throated diver (some on the seaside), great crested grebe (5 to 10), cormorant (a few tens), heron (some), little egret (common, recent establishment), shelduck (50 to 150), ducks - mallard, teal, wigeon, shoveler… (all rare), eider (hundreds especially on the seaside of the Point on the mussel cultures), common scoter (hundreds, seaside), red-breasted merganser (about 15), oystercatcher (1000 to 3000), ringed plover (not very common), grey plover (about 300), lapwing (500 to 1000), bar-tailed godwit (200 to 300), sanderling (hundreds, increasing), dunlin (hundreds), redshank (rare), curlew (100 to 200), turnstone (tens), gulls (herring, common, great black-backed), black-headed gull, mediterranean gull (tens even hundreds, recently established).

4 very regular raptors occur at the “havre” : hen harriers, peregrine falcons, merlins and short-eared owls. These last three are often seen at the “end of the beach”  where they catch prey or rest. Two passerines are sometimes found along the stony sand banks of the pointe d’Agon, the snow bunting  and, exceptionally, the shore lark. These 2 species only have a very few wintering individuals in France.

But the Havre de Regnéville is also a very important migratory halt in spring and at the end of the summer. It is at these periods that the numbers of water bird are greatest. For these birds, the mudholes and the channels represent a vital source of food. Among the birds that are present are:  herons (a few tens in August/September), spoonbills, pintails (February), all the waders but more particularly the ringed plover (hundreds), all the terns. The marsh harrier then haunts the salt marsh and the osprey hunts along tide channels in search of prey. The kingfisher prefers sitting at the top of the sand banks. 

Birds in danger!

One does not need to be a scientist to understand the threat of project to birds. The work is supposed to prevent the Pointe d’Agon from lengthening towards the south, it will take 10 years to move 300,000 cubic meters of sand and mud, that is to say 20,000 movements of dumper trucks affecting the habitats and species on the site
- General disturbance: will affect every bird in the area. There is no period without birds and the estuary is vitally important for food, for breeding and for resting. This is why a Zone of Special Protection was created.

- Destruction of zones of great value for the birds : the Pointe d’Agon, where the Kentish plovers breed, where the many waders stay, where the snow bunting and the peregrine falcon spend the winter, and the sand banks provide resting places of crucial importance for the birds in particular in the hunting season.

- Great danger of reduction in the sources of food by direct destruction of the areas of Enteromorpha exploited by the Brent geese, multiplication of the tracks of machines, pollution. They are zones with very important primary production, at the base of all the food chains. Less diatoms, less molluscs, less fish, less birds….

If some people think that this article is too emotional then read the contents of the Birds Directive since the havre de Regnéville is a SPA. No less than 41 species observed at least once in the estuary appear in the appendix I which relates to the “species being the subject of measurements of special conservation relating to their habitat, in order to ensure their survival and their reproduction in their area of distribution”. Let us be objective : of these 41 species, 22 have already disappeared from the site, are found only occasionally or are seen only in migratory overflight. But of the 19 remaining ones, 16 species are directly threatened by the project because they feed on the site during migration or in winter and they rest there. For the reasons explained above, the work would have a negative impact or disastrous impact on the following species:

Bar-tailed godwit

Black tern

Common tern

Kentish plover


Little egret

Little tern

Mediterranean gull




Red-throated diver

Sandwich tern

Short-eared owl

Slavonian grebe



From a strictly ornithological point of view, this project is completely inadmissible both in the matter of safeguarding biodiversity as well as in its lack of respect for the existing laws and regulations.

Alain Livory (translation Charles David)

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