Lyme Bay maritime natural area and notable species

There seems to be some confusion as where / what Lyme Bay is and a definition of its boundary! Some (e.g. BirdGuides) assume its just the sea area off Dorset (close to Lyme Regis) and therefore records are attributable to Dorset only (e.g. recently Birdguides attributed sightings from a short-range pelagic from Brixham, Devon to Dorset). However, conservationists have long been using the definition as the area of sea between Start Point (Devon) and Portland Bill (Dorset). See Natural England's  Lyme Bay Maritime Natural Area  document. Recent short-range pelagic trips from Brixham are referred to as Lyme Bay pelagics (run by NatureTrek and local guides, often posted on Devon Bird news); tend to focus on the Devon side of Lyme Bay as Brixham is the port of embarkation.
Lyme Bay
Lyme Bay is an important staging area for many seabirds, particularly through summer-autumn. It is one of the best areas in the UK to see the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater - a species in which I have taken great interest (with over 10,000 land-based sightings over the years). From participating in at sea surveys (transects of Lyme Bay / English Channel) for MarineLife and JNCC and shore based observations (e.g. SeaWatchSW / RSPB and my own ongoing study), it appears the west side of Lyme Bay is a particular hot spot. Arrival of good numbers from late July onward usually follow a period of onshore winds with a southerly to south-westerly bias, usually if good numbers first appear on the French side of the English Channel (having tracked up around Biscay). If there is a good food source present they may linger, but as with all seabird events some years are better than others.
Any of the headlands on the west side of Lyme Bay are good, perhaps Berry Head (near Brixham) being the best in terms of sightings and access (parking etc), although Portland in the east can also be very good in some years. Berry Head has another bonus, being by Brixham which has a resident fishing fleet. Balearic Shearwaters will often follow Otter (day) trawlers back in from outer Lyme Bay, often breaking away and passing close to the headland as the boats head for port. Most notably in September 2011 I witnessed the amazing sight of 63 Balearic Shearwaters behind one trawler and 54 behind the next!
As these shearwaters are at sea, sometimes distant offshore, I tend to refer to the sighting area as west Lyme Bay in terms of a conservation area.
Balearic Shearwater - Lyme Bay
The bay also hosts a small population of White-beaked Dolphins which I've been lucky to see by boat several times and occasionally (if you're very lucky) while seawatching from Berry Head.

White-beaked Dolphin - Lyme Bay


1 comment:

  1. great read and very helpful. white-beaked dolphin & baleaeic shearwater two very special species. you Devon seawatchers are very lucky as balearic shearwater is much rarer in scotland (where i seawatch).