Thursday, 29 August 2019

August Update

Amazingly this weekend signals the beginning of September, and, as it tends to at this time of year, it feels like we have blinked and missed summer. However, looking back on the last month we have packed in a lot of work on the reserve. From events and shorebird wardening to the beginning of our practical work program, it has been a busy and varied month! 

The shorebird season is mostly finished with large numbers of fledgling birds from Lindisfarne and beyond using the reserve as a staging post before beginning their epic migrations south. On the flipside, thousands of waders and wildfowl are massing in the high artic waiting for the right weather to move en masse to their winter home…..Lindisfarne. Already large flocks of Redshank and Curlew are descending on the mudflats with numbers increasing every week.
Ringed Plovers breed on the reserve
Our events programme has been in full swing this summer with shorebird crafts for children held at the Windows on Wild Lindisfarne building as well as disseminating the key messages of reserve to adults. We have been making flappy terns, Lapwing puppets, butterfly masks and making huge numbers of badges. There has also been guided walks, rockpool rambles and seal watches. For more information visit where a full list of our upcoming events can be found.

Craft event at the WoWL building

The annual battle with pirri-pirri burr commenced as several groups have been out, clearing the seed heads from the main paths and desire lines within the dune system. This New Zealand native plant was first discovered on the reserve in 1930 and has since spread far and wide across Northumberland. It is incredibly easy to spread as the sticky burrs adhere to visitors shoes and socks and dogs fur and drop off at a later stage, germinating elsewhere. At Lindisfarne NNR we don't use chemical sprays that will harm other important dune plants within the ecosystem. That means that we have to remove them by hand! A thankless task some would say but a necessary one. If you are walking through the dunes please keep dogs on a short lead and remove all traces of burrs from your clothes, shoes and pets before you leave the reserve.
Balled up seed heads of Pirri-pirri Burr - don't leave the reserve with your shoes looking like this!
Another constant battle is with the tide of plastic waste that is continuing to wash up on our shores. A number of litter picks have been carried out on the island itself and there are others planned over the coming month. We ask that you please take all rubbish with you when you leave the reserve.

If you would like to take part in an organised Beach clean there is one scheduled on 14th September. We meet at the snook car park just before 10am (gloves, bags and litterpicker provided).
We also have a Marine pollution solutions event coming up on 7th September between 13:00 and 15:00 at the WoWL building. The aim of this is to educate children and adults alike through games and crafts about best practice to dispose of plastic waste. So come along and find out more!

We normally see a few painted lady butterflies around the reserve every year but this year was a little bit different. Painted ladies make a multi-generational migration from Africa every year and early news reported good numbers further south. The weather on the continent aided their migration and breeding with scorching weather and southerly winds pushing them ever northward towards our doorstep. In the last week of July they finally arrived in numbers that haven’t been seen in over a decade.
Lots of Painted Ladies on Ragwort during the impressive influx
Clouds of these exquisitely delicate aeronauts could be seen on every flower around the reserve. Recently more people have become aware of using nature as a form of therapy and I can definitely concur that there is something that is stirred in your soul when you see these incredible mass migrations!

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Shorebird Chicks Steal The Show

The sun has finally come out! Just what our breeding shorebirds need to give chicks their best chance at fledging. They have had a tough few weeks with strong winds and heavy rain, but we put out numerous chick shelters in the hope they would have a refuge from the elements. This was hugely successful, and because of that most of our Little Tern and Ringed Plover chicks survived the storm!

Juvenile Ringed Plover. Image © JJD

Oystercatcher chicks have also hatched; small balls of fluff that look very top-heavy with their long beaks! The adults continue to protect the colony from all sorts of predators, but despite their best efforts a cunning sparrowhawk took one of their chicks – food for chicks of its own.

As the tide recedes, tide pools on the beach are full of trapped sandeels and are the perfect hunting ground for little terns and an ideal place for young birds to learn how to fish. Sandeel stocks have been great this year and chicks are been well fed by adults.

Adult Little Tern feeding

Ringed Plover chicks are also doing very well. Exclusions zones across the Reserve being kept free from disturbance are a valuable resource for these birds, as they are very active and must learn to feed for themselves as soon as they can walk. Ringed Plover chicks have already successfully fledged and can now explore the Reserve by air as well as by foot! Arctic and Common Tern chicks are also due to fledge any day now.

Arctic Tern nest with two chicks and one egg hidden amongst the Marram Grass

Spot the Arctic Tern chick!

As we head towards July, we are at a pivotal point in the Shorebird Season. Small chicks are extremely vulnerable to predators, and make a tasty snack for foxes, kestrels and gulls. Parent birds have a hard job to protect their young, and the best way we can help them do this is to ensure they go undisturbed and stay close to chicks.

Adult Little Tern next to its chick... photo-bombed by a Ringed Plover chick!

Adult Ringed Plover with two young chicks 

We will keep you posted on the journey of the chicks as they start to fledge! Fingers cross this weather is here to stay!

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Shorebird Season Update - The Story So Far

We are almost two months into shorebird season – what a cracking few weeks we’ve had so far! Ringed Plovers were already on eggs across the Reserve as we were installing anti-predator netting and boundary ropes at various locations, and overhead Little, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns were screeching, making us aware of their return from Africa and, in the case of the Arctic Terns, even as far as Antarctica.

Adult Common Tern (© JDD)

Strong winds at the start of May unfortunately led to a few of the early Ringed Plover nests to be buried by sand. However, as the weather settled more scrapes were appearing up and down the coast, and adults began their 21-23 day incubation of their precious eggs. Ringed Plover pairs form territories which they are fiercely protective of, and because of this they attempt to nest in any viable habitat they can. Regular monitoring by staff and volunteers has given us a better understanding of the places Ringed Plovers are trying to nest, and this feeds into our management plans for shorebird protection in the coming years. Often nesting outside of formal protection zones, they are vulnerable to accidental trampling by people and dogs as the eggs are well camouflaged against sand and shingle. Ringed Plovers will make you aware if you are too close to their nest by alarm calling, so listen out for the worried tones of birds when walking on the beaches. We advise avoiding dry sand and keeping dogs on leads to minimise disturbance to the birds.

Ringed Plover nest, or scrape, on pebbles

Adult Ringed Plover (© JDD) 

Sections of beach are closed off between mid-April and mid-August to give the nesting shorebirds as much protection as possible to successfully nest and rear young. Ringed Plover breeding success has declined by over 50% in the past 25 years, mainly due to the loss of suitable breeding habitat. Similarly Little Tern success has also declined, and according to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, they are Schedule 1 birds which means it is a criminal offence to intentionally and recklessly disturb and/or damage the birds, their eggs and their young. Large areas of beach between their nest site and the sea are used by adults to roost, regain the energy they spent during their migration and to court. Disturbance at this stage could prevent the birds from successfully mating or deter them from nesting. Since introducing the beach closures, we have seen an increase in the number of birds choosing to nest on the Reserve. 

Anti-predator netting protecting suitable nesting habitat at Goswick

Little Tern courtship began early May, involving graceful display flights and a ‘who can catch the biggest fish to impress the ladies’ competition between the male birds. Thankfully fish stocks appear to be strong this year, which we assess through monitoring the feeding activity of the birds.

Adult Little Tern with sandeel (© Kevin Simmonds) 

One pair of Oystercatcher have chosen to nest on the outskirts of the Little Tern colony, almost acting as bodyguards by chasing off potential predators such as crows, gulls and even a Sparrowhawk!

Oystercatcher sitting on scrape 

By mid-May, Little Tern eggs had been laid and the wait began for the first chicks to hatch. During this time wardens were monitoring behaviour and feeding activity and chatting to members of the public about how they can do their part to help protect the vulnerable birds. As well as presence on the beaches, wardens have also been running engagement events at various locations across the Reserve in our Shorebird Van, so if you are visiting in the next few months keep an eye out and come and have a chat!

The first egg to hatch was the fourth Ringed Plover pair to nest on the Reserve, aptly named RP4. Chicks are very small and have been likened to ‘pom-poms on stilts’. Ringed Plover parents have their work cut out, as up to 4 chicks disperse in different directions as soon as they can support their body weight.  RP3 was an interesting case study, as eggs hatched after a staggering 32 days of incubation. This was probably due to cold weather causing embryos to take longer to fully develop inside the egg.

Last weekend, during a day of heavy rain, the first of the Little Tern eggs hatched – LT6 – and we are happy to say all three chicks are still going strong! As chicks age, their parents encourage them to venture close to the sea to start to learn how to feed for themselves, highlighting the need to close sections of the beach to give them the space they need to learn these essential life lessons safely and undisturbed by walkers and dogs.

Spot the Little Tern Chick!

The recent period of strong north easterly winds and heavy rain has hit at an unfortunate time as the majority of eggs were due to hatch this week. Monitoring the birds has been difficult in these conditions, but most adults have been sitting tight, keeping their eggs warm and chicks well fed.

We are now hoping for a few weeks of glorious sunshine to keep conditions favourable for a successful season with plenty of fledglings returning to Africa with their parents.

We’ll keep you posted!

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Celebrating Volunteers on Lindisfarne NNR

This week, we celebrate all of our wonderful and committed volunteers who have all played a vital role in supporting the work we do here on Lindisfarne NNR. From practical habitat management to supporting with public engagement events, the wildlife of the Reserve has benefitted from all their hard work. 

A huge thank you from the NNR team to all of our volunteers for your dedication and enthusiasm! Keep up the good work

Volunteer Andy Pigg joined us last shorebird season and has wrote about his experiences. He enjoyed the summer so much he is back this year and is an invaluable member of the Shorebird team.

"In this my first year as a Shorebird Warden working for Natural England on the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve and as a complete novice, I found the whole experience extremely rewarding.

It was a real privilege to be able to work alongside highly experienced professionals who were able to educate me on the breeding habits of both the Little Tern and Ringed Plover as well as imparting a great deal of knowledge on the Flora and Fauna that can be found along the North Northumberland Coast. I am much the wiser for it and can now impress family and friends with my new found knowledge.

The remoteness of the site allowed greater opportunities to observe and study the Little Terns in some detail. I was awestruck by their dogged determination to succeed in the face of such adversity. Their long flight from West Africa, the unpredictable climate and tides along the North Sea Coast and a whole host of predators it is truly remarkable and inspiring when you see the first fledglings take to the air. Like a surrogate parent watching from the sidelines it filled me with a great deal of pride knowing that I had contributed to that success.

The majority of visitors on the beaches across the Reserve were very understanding over the restrictive access and appreciative of the wardens’ intervention in protecting some of our rarest breeding birds. Most left with, I suspect a degree of envy for those of us who have time to spare for such a good cause.

I can think of few better ways to spend the day than sat on the North Northumberland Coast in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty monitoring breeding birds, watching inquisitive seals off shore and spotting the occasional dolphin breaking through the waves."

Andy Pigg (Retired Army Officer)

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Shorebird season begins!

We are excited to welcome back nesting shorebirds to the Reserve. Ringed Plover have already laid clutches of eggs while Little Terns have been seen prospecting over two of their nesting sites. It's an exciting time of year at Lindisfarne NNR. 

Little Terns are the second-rarest nesting seabird in the UK, and a Schedule 1 species. This gives them special legal protection and means it is a criminal offence to disturb them. They migrate all the way from West Africa to nest on our sandy shores.

The small charismatic waders Ringed Plover have been forming their territories since February. Unlike Little Terns, they do not nest in colonies but are spread out along the sandy coastline. Like many UK waders, they have seen steep declines in their breeding success.

Ringed Plover © JJD

From May until the beginning of August, wardens will be protecting nesting areas across the Reserve – monitoring the birds and talking to members of the public. Areas will be fenced off and access restricted in some areas over these months. People can help protect these special birds by respecting the fenced off areas, keeping dogs on short leads on the Reserve, and walking on the wet sand wherever possible.

Lead Shorebird Warden Katherine Dunsford says “I’m really looking forward to the coming season. We are hoping this year to build on the successful 2018 breeding season. A big factor in their breeding success last year was the refuge offered by the fenced off areas, which gave them places to safely rest and rear their chicks without any disturbance.

“We understand the frustrations of not being able to access some areas of the coastline. However, these birds are in decline and need our help. The greatest threat to the breeding success of shorebirds is human and dog disturbance.”

Katherine explains: “The birds lay their eggs in hollows that they form in the sand, called ‘scrapes’. They are so well camouflaged that a stray foot or paw might easily wipe out the breeding success of a pair.”

Northumberland is a wonderful area both to live in and for tourism, with its long sandy beaches being a particular draw. However, increased human and dog disturbance means that we are compelled to take additional steps to protect our nesting shorebirds. For more information on Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve’s Shorebird Protection Scheme contact the Reserve office on 01289 381470.

Little Tern ©  Elizabeth Dack

Thursday, 25 April 2019

April update

The sun came out for Easter, bringing with it many of our summer migrants. From the shore, the white shapes of sandwich terns can be seen fluttering high and then diving deep into the sea. The first wheatears have been spotted – few in number, so far, but a lovely sight. Swallows fly their long pennant tail feathers over the Lough.

In the dunes, skylarks and meadow pipits are nesting and the song of the skylark is the sound of a sunny day in duneland, as it once was for farms. The collective noun for skylarks is ‘an exaltation’, and it is easy to see – or hear – why they have inspired poets and musicians for centuries.

Skylark ©JJD

In the wet dune slacks, tapioca-like frogspawn has developed into merrily wriggling tadpoles. Roe deer are a frequent sight in the dunes and fields on Holy Island. We have been busy as ever with monitoring, with Wetland Bird Surveys, Breeding Bird Surveys and Farmland Bird Surveys giving ample opportunity to enjoy the developing season.

We continue also to monitor the spread of Corella eumyota, the Orange-tipped Sea Squirt, although no removal will be conducted in the summer months as this is when the invasive invertebrate is suspected to be most likely to breed.

Returning also to our shores are little terns – a delightful seabird that travels all the way from West Africa to breed on the NNR. Little terns are the second rarest nesting seabird in the UK. Along with the charismatic ringed plover, they have adapted to nest on sandy shores – a precarious environment where they have found their niche.

Unfortunately, the breeding success of both these species is in decline. The major factor in this decline is human and dog disturbance – it is so easy for a stray foot or paw to unknowingly crush an egg, or for human presence to scare the birds so that they abandon their eggs.

From May until the beginning of August, wardens will be protecting nesting areas across the Reserve – monitoring the birds and talking to members of the public. We ask people please to respect the signage and the restricted areas, to keep dogs on a short lead on the Reserve, and to walk on the wet sand where possible.

Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot the ringed plover chicks – beetling along quickly like pom-poms on stilts. Or glimpse a bright white little tern with a silver sand-eel in its mouth, returning to feed its mate. It’s a special time of year, and we look forward to another shorebird season.

Finally, we are delighted to welcome some new members to the Lindisfarne NNR team – we have recruited a new Reserve Manager and two new Shorebird Wardens. We look forward to introducing our new colleagues soon!

Friday, 29 March 2019

March update

We have passed the equinox. Spring has sprung – the first chiffchaffs calling their names in the hedgerows, fuzzy drinker moth caterpillars emerging from hibernation, and frog spawn in great clumps in the wet slacks in the duneland beyond the Straight Lonnen. We have seen large flocks of whooper swans flying in great loops above Holy Island, white shapes against grey clouds – perhaps orienting themselves for their spring migration back to Iceland. The geese, too, are on the move.

Ground-nesting birds such as skylark and meadow pipit are beginning to form territories and fulmars have returned to the rocky ledges of the Reserve’s only sea cliff. This month has seen the last scrub bashes of the season, with teams of staff and volunteers setting to with secateurs and loppers, and pitting our weight against the roots of the willow scrub on the Snook. We have been continuing to clean the Reserve’s beaches and duneland of litter, trundling a wheelbarrow across the dunes to collect bulky items from the North Shore.

In the Rocket field, we are at the start of a project working with Jimmy to improve conditions for overwintering and breeding birds. Good numbers of teal and oystercatcher have been present there over the winter period, as well as lots of roosting gulls.

Shorebird season will soon be upon us – sandwich terns have already been seen in the south of England, and from the end of April onwards we will close off sections of beach across the Reserve to provide refuge areas for little terns and ringed plover to nest in without human or dog disturbance. Both species are under threat and breeding success is in decline. We are looking for volunteers to help us with our conservation efforts, to assist with shorebird monitoring and public engagement. Lindisfarne NNR are spearheading a Northumberland census of ringed plover and are seeking volunteers to regularly check sections of coastline to help us to monitor their numbers and breeding success. Please contact Lead Shorebird Warden Katherine Dunsford at if you are interested in volunteering.

Finally, we are in the process of appointing new seasonal shorebird wardens, and a new Reserve Manager, to help us to care for the species and habitats of this spectacular place.