Bird Watching or Birding At The Coast – How To Stay Safe Close To Open Water

Bird watching or birding I am sure you will agree can be an absolutely fabulous hobby.  Certainly during lockdown those enjoying bird watching have increased due to the uplifting role it can play by increasing wellbeing and getting closer to nature. The RSPB reports that during lockdown they have seen a 69% increase in website traffic compared with the same time in 2019.

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According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) three million adults go bird watching or birding every year in the UK*.  It can be enjoyed through the naked eye or using binoculars, a telescope, by listening to bird sounds or by watching public webcams.

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What Equipment Do I Need To Go Bird Watching?

Equipment commonly used for birding includes binoculars, a spotting scope with tripod, a smart device, a notepad and one or more field guides. Hides are often used to conceal the observers from birds and or to improve viewing conditions. The majority of optic manufacturers sell specific binoculars for birding with some gearing their whole brand to birders.

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What Is The Bird Watching Code?

It is vitally important to safeguard the interests of birds, so with that in mind The Bird Watching Code has been produced:

  1. Avoid disturbing birds and their habitats – the birds’ interests should always come first.
  2. Be an ambassador for bird watching.
  3. Know the law and the rules for visiting the countryside and follow them.
  4. Send your sightings to the County Bird Recorder and the Birdtrack website.
  5. Think about the interests of wildlife and local people before passing on news of a rare bird, especially during the breeding season.

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What COVID-19 Precautions Should I Take Whilst Bird Watching?

Before taking part in any bird watching activity the government website should be consulted for the latest up-to-date advice on how to stay safe.

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What Safety Precautions Should I Take When I Go Bird Watching At the Coast or Beside Open Water?

Before venturing out for your bird watching session at the coast or beside open water you should consider the following advice which will help you stay safe, whilst at the same time help  you enjoy your fabulous hobby:

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  1. Carry a calling for help device like a fully charged mobile phone in a waterproof case so that you can call for help if you get into difficulty or come across someone in trouble.

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2.  Check out the weather and tide times before you venture out of the door. There are plenty of app’s which are free to download and use for every type of smart devices.

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3.  Tell someone where you are going and the latest time you will be back.

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4. Read all warning signs on the approach to coastal area’s and take heed of the advice.

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5. Be aware of your surroundings at all times as tides and conditions can change very quickly.

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6. If you get into difficulty at the coast or on the River Thames dial ‘999’ or ‘112’ ask for the Coastguard straight away giving as an accurate location as possible.  If you are inland at a canal, river, loch or other area of open water ask for the Fire Service.

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7. Don’t enter the water if you get cut-off by the tide – shout for help and dial ‘999’ ask for the Coastguard. Don’t attempt to enter the water.

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8. Download and use the What3Words app on your smart device. This will help you ascertain your location quickly in the event of an emergency.  It will also help you map your location if you need to meet up with friends to bird watch.

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9. If you end up in the water Float on Your Back until you get your breath back and calm down. Then call for help.

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10. Cliff’s can be more unstable than they look and cliff falls/landslides can happen without warning. Don’t climb fences to get to the edge and never climb the cliff as a short cut to the top.  


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Stay Safe

John Homer (RNLI Community Safety Advisor) “We really hope that you enjoy your bird watching as it is a fabulous hobby, just by taking a few sensible precautions can mean you having a day to remember for the right reasons. Stay safe”.

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How can I find out further information on bird watching and staying safe at the coast?

Learn more about the work of the RSPB 

Bird Watching

Find out how to float to live

Want to find out more about water safety and drowning prevention? Why not sign up for our e-newsletter.

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Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

HM Coastguard

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

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Foot Note

* 2.85 million adults aged over 15 in Britain go bird watching regularly or occasionally (Target Group Index, BMRB International 2004).

Andy Mills

Thanet RNLI Community Safety Officer Striving to reduce accidental drownings by 50% by 2024 by spreading key safety messages to Thanet communities and its visitors.