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Northeast England Beached Bird Surveys

We are a voluntary group initiated during 2003 and composed of a core of keen regular beach surveyors. Our members are interested in birds, the environment in general, pollution of marine ecosystems and how to improve the health of the maritime environment with an emphasis on the North Sea. Beach walking provides fresh air and exercise as well as increasing our wider knowledge of the marine environment.

Beached Guillemot

The Northeast England beached bird surveys (NEBBS) augment longer datasets from similar surveys in Orkney and Shetland. In recent years other regular beach surveys have begun in the Republic of Ireland and Southwest England. In Northeast England we also contribute to the ‘Save the North Sea’ Fulmar project.

Bird species we find washed up on the shore include the auks (Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin and Little Auk), gulls (including Herring, Great Black-backed, Common, Black-headed and Kittiwake), waders (for example Golden Plover, Redshank, Dunlin, Woodcock and Oystercatcher), other seabirds (such as Fulmars, Gannets, Cormorants, Shags, divers, terns and ducks) and migrant birds such as Blackbird, Redwing, Fieldfare, Skylark and Starling. We also make notes about other matters of interest – for example beached fish, porpoises, dolphins, seals, whales, crabs, starfish, or anything that may take your fancy.

You can read a published paper by Daniel Turner, Beached bird survey results for North East England 2004-2005, by clicking here.

If you would like more information about Northeast England beached bird surveys, please contact the NEBBS group coordinator by email,

Checking for beached birds at Druridge Bay © Dan Turner

How beach surveys are carried out

Our main method of performing beached bird surveys entails regular monthly checks of agreed stretches of coast when the tide is low enough as not to pose a risk of getting cut off. Tide heights and times are available on-line from the BBC, please click here.

Twice a day our shores experience high and low tides, which vary in height depending on the moon cycle, weather, wind and time of year. By carefully checking the strand line on the shore for bird remains we may record changes and events in our environment. Often during a beach walk we find no bird corpses – that is fine and what we call a ‘nil return’ which should be recorded in addition to surveys where shore finds are made. Surveyors get to know their shore well with such regular visits over a period of time.

There is a form for completion following each survey – which may be posted or emailed to the regional coordinator. Information to record includes start and end times, weather conditions, whether oil or litter is present on the shore, numbers of people, live birds seen and details of any bird remains found, state of completeness, whether oiled and to what extent.

How to get involved

If you would like to help us carry out beach surveys please contact the Northeast England coordinator.

To give beginners an idea of how and what to record you can view three completed example forms. Two of these examples show many specimens, but such numerous finds are not likely during the majority of surveys (please do not let the forms put you off, all surveyors find their own way of recording).

Before starting on your own a new surveyor may take an introductory walk with an experienced beached bird recorder and receive background information, tips, etc. If you are unsure of identification and have a camera then photos may be taken so we can check later and try to confirm the species involved.

Fulmar, Old Hartley © Dan Turner

About the ‘Save the North Sea’ Fulmar project

Beach-washed Fulmar corpses with complete abdomens are collected during our surveys for the ‘Save the North Sea’ (SNS) Fulmar project. The regional coordinator will collect these from the finder and place in cold storage. Trained individuals then analyse these specimens under laboratory conditions and take measurements, notes on feather moult, etc. An internal examination follows during which the organs are scored for level of health and the stomach is extracted for subsequent analysis of contents. All countries bordering the North Sea are involved in Fulmar corpse collection, each having a regional coordinator.

The aim of the North Sea Fulmar project is to determine a reduction in the quantity of plastic within this species to match an Ecological Quality Objective (EcoQO) where less than 10% of Fulmars have more than 0.1 g of plastic in the stomach. Currently around 95% of all beached North Sea Fulmars have plastics in the stomach, and 58% exceed the required EcoQO critical level. The plastics which float in the sea are ingested by feeding Fulmars, but these slowly disintegrate within the live birds and pass through their gut. On average, during 2003 – 2007 (van Franeker et al, in press), 1,295 North Sea Fulmars carried 0.31 gram of plastic consisting of 35 pieces. Plastics within the seas are a global phenomenon, but levels vary from place to place, and many forms of wildlife are adversely affected by this ubiquitous form of pollution.

You can read a published paper by Daniel Turner about the ‘Save the North Sea’ Fulmar Project results for North East England 2003-2005 by clicking here. You can read a published IMARES report (that includes East England beach-washed Fulmar data from 2003 – 2009) by Dr Jan van Franeker and the international SNS Fulmar Study Group by clicking here.

The NEBBS group has been working with our partners to publish a paper “Monitoring plastic ingestion by the northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis in the North Sea” in the journal Environmental Pollution. If you would like to see a copy of this paper please contact the NEBBS coordinator or click here.

If you would like more information about the ‘Save the North Sea’ Fulmar Project please contact the NEBBS coordinator

Plastic granules found on beach by Peter Collins © Dan Turner

NEBBS Group Newsletters

Regular NEBBS Group Newsletters are produced with survey results and information. These are distributed to the project volunteers and they may also be viewed here:

NEBBS Group News Notes – shorter news items

Weather Incident Updates

Other publications & information

  1. Kühn, S, van Franeker, J A, (2012). Plastic ingestion by the northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis in Iceland. Marine Pollution Bulletin 64: 1252-1254. For an extract of this paper please click here. For the complete paper – contact Susanne Kühn on or the NEBBS co-ordinator.
  2. Examples of full analysis results from three Northeast England beached Fulmars:
  1. Summary report of Fulmar analysis at Dove Marine Lab (Newcastle University) on 10-11 June 2013. Click here to view.
  2. Rebolledo, E L B, van Franeker, J A, Jansen, O E, Brasseur, S M J M, (2013). Plastic ingestion by harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in The Netherlands. Marine Pollution Bulletin 67: 200-202. For an extract of this paper please click here.
  3. Relating to the east coast puffin wreck of March / April 2013 … Duff, J P, Harris, M P and Turner, D M (2013). Mass mortality of puffins linked to starvation. Veterinary Record 173:224. Click here to view.
  4. van Nus, T M C and Moreira, P L, 2014 (March). Survey of beached birds and mammals: São Jacinto – Torreira, March 14, 2014. (Report from Portugal). Click here to view.
  5. van Nus, T M C and Moreira, P L, 2014 (April). Survey of beached birds and mammals: São Jacinto – Torreira, March 27, 2014. (Report fromPortugal). Click here to view.
  6. van Nus, T M C and Moreira, P L, 2015 (May). Survey of beached birds and mammals: São Jacinto – Torreira (Portugal), March 2014 to March 2015. Click here for pdf.
  7. Gunn, C M, Newell, M, Burthe, S, Sturgeon, J, Grist, H, Reid, J, Harris, M P, Wanless, S and Daunt, F, 2014 (March). A major wreck of European shags in northeast Britain, winter 2012-2013. A poster presented by Carrie Gunn at The Seabird Group 12th International Conference at Merton College, University of Oxford, on 21-23 March 2014. Click here to view.
  8. Harris, M P, Wanless, S, and Jensen, J-K, (2014). When are Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica in the North Sea and around the Faroe Islands flightless? Bird Study, 61:2, 182-192. For an extract of this paper:
  9. Acampora, H, Schuyler, Q A, Townsend, K A, and Hardesty, B D, (2014). Comparing plastic ingestion in juvenile and adult stranded short-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) in eastern Australia. Marine Pollution Bulletin 78: 63-68.For an extract of this paper: For the complete paper please contact the NEBBS co-ordinator.
  10. Trevail, A M, Gabrielsen, G W, Kühn, S, and van Franeker, J A, (2015). Elevated levels of ingested plastic in a high Arctic seabird, the northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis). Springer Link (open access). This paper records the findings from a sample of forty Svalbard Fulmars and the plastics found within their stomachs. The welcome study adds to our knowledge of the impact and level of plastics in this enigmatic seabird and the need for human intervention to improve the environment and undo man’s misdemeanours.
  11. Marina Codina-García, Teresa Militão, Javier Moreno, Jacob González-Solís, (2013). Plastic debris in Mediterranean seabirds. Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 77, Issues 1–2, 15 December 2013, Pages 220–226. This paper shows the impact of plastics on nine Mediterranean Sea seabird species – outlined here for the first time. The results show particular exposure in three endemic and threatened shearwater species.
  12. Kühn, S, Bravo Rebolledo E L, and Van Franeker, J A, (2015). Deleterious effects of litter on marine life. pp 75-116. In: Bergmann, M., Gutow, L., and Klages, M. (editors) (2015). Marine Anthropogenic Litter. Berlin, Open access: Freely available on:
  13. van Franeker, J A, (2015). Five Small facts about balloon litter. Message of 20 April 2015 on IMARES Dossier “Plastic Waste and Marine Wildlife”. Research Gate link: DOI
  14. van Franeker, J A, and Law, K L, (2015). Seabirds, gyres and global trends in plastic pollution. Environmental Pollution 203: 89-96. Open access: Freely available on
  15. Albert van Oyen, Marion Egelkraut-Holtus, Jan Andries van Franeker. 2015. Polymers found in seabirds’ stomachs: Comprehensive analysis applying FTIR and EDX technology. Spectroscopy Now. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Click here to view.
  16. Egelkraut-Holtus, M., Knoop, J. & Ortlieb, M. 2015. Antimony in breakfast tea? Consequences going hand in hand with today’s materials. G.I.T Laboratory Journal 1-2/2015, pages 26-27. Click here to view.
  17. van Franeker, J.A., Kühn, S. & Turner, D.M.  2020.  Finders Information United Kingdom (2019). SNS Fulmar Study Report – Findersinformation_UK_3rdBatch2019, Wageningen Marine Research, Den Helder, 24pp.  Click here to view.
  18. From River to Sea, Pollution by Plastic; Wall panel at Old Low Light Heritage Centre (North Shields fish quay). Click here to view.

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