Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Summer Heat!

Over the last week the hot weather has been all across the news with record breaking temperatures recorded across all 4 nations of the UK in the last couple of days. However, the dry weather is a theme that has been on going since the start of the year. 

We installed a weather station on the island in November last year and it is already beginning to yield some interesting results. The weather station will allow us to establish long-term data sets on the NNR and enable us to see trends develop as the climate changes. It will also allow us to cross analyse the weather data with other research such as hydrological data and bird numbers to discover if there is a significant correlation between different variables. For a comparison the Met Office 30 - year average at Boulmer has been used, as this is the closest station with a reliable long-term data set.

Rain

Total rainfall to date in 2022 is 151mm at Lindisfarne NNR compared to an expected 30-year long term average of 246.8mm. This means Lindisfarne NNR is running 95mm below average or 62% of rainfall in 2022 so far. The only month that ran above average was February with January being particularly dry as can be seen in the table and graph below.

Rainfall 2022 (mm)

Lindisfarne

Boulmer 30-year average

% Lindisfarne

January

11.6

58

20%

February

46.6

43.98

106%

March

25.8

47.81

54%

April

42

51.79

81%

May

37.4

45.09

83%


Graph showing 2022 monthly rainfall compared to Boulmer long term average.



The low rainfall has left the dunes tinderbox dry needing only a spark to ignite. We have already experienced 2 wildfires on the Reserve this year, a highly unusual occurrence with only one other wildfire noted in the previous 20 years. Thanks to working with Northumbria Fire Service and the Coast Guard these fires were put out relatively quickly and didn't spread too far. However, we have still lost 3 acres of important dune grassland where ground nesting birds would have been incubating eggs or feeding chicks and scarce botany blooming.

Fire risk signs are in place around the Reserve

Burn scar in the dunes from the fire last month


The fire risk is still incredibly high even after the scorching temperatures have cooled. With the rainfall deficit it is going to take a significant amount of sustained downpours to reduce the risk. This is a reminder to stick to the byelaws when visiting the Reserve. We do not permit any BBQs, any naked flames of any kind and don't discard any cigarettes. It can take only a single spark and the fire can get out of control incredibly quickly.

Summer update

As we reach the height of Summer everything on the Reserve is bursting with life. The botany in the dunes is coming into full bloom with carpets of Orchids and other wildflowers such as Yellow Rattle and Lady’s Bedstraw. The dune grassland is bounding with Skylark and Meadow Pipit chicks as adults furiously feed them.
Common Butterwort in bloom
Pyrmidal Orchids are now flowering.

On the beaches of the Reserve, shorebirds are also well into nesting season. Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers, Little, Arctic and Common Terns have all made it to the crucial stage of hatching and now the chicks are roaming around the shoreline. From the time that they arrive and set-up territory they have to navigate their way through multiple close calls and challenges and this season has been no different. Laying eggs on the dry sand on the beach they are extremely vulnerable. Predators from both the air and ground can take eggs and even adults before they have the chance to incubate. Tidal inundation is always a worry but thankfully the nesting sites, by and large, have survived a couple of spring tides. Lastly, they have to navigate disturbance caused by increasing recreational pressure on the coast. This is the area that we, humans can help the most. By reading all signs when entering the Reserve, being aware of birds using the beach and keeping a dog on a short lead or at heel and prevented from disturbing any wildlife or bird at all times on the Reserve as per the byelaw can have huge benefit on the breeding success of these vulnerable birds. 
Litte Tern brooding chicks (Kevin Simmonds)

 We are aware of the large outbreak of Avian Influenza that is ongoing and causing devastation amongst the local seabird colonies. There is an increase in dead birds that are being observed along the coast. Reserve staff are collecting dead birds under strict guidelines and using the correct PPE. The birds are then removed from site and incinerated. The advice is to not approach or touch any sick or dead birds and keep dogs away from them. Please report any dead or dying birds to the DEFRA emergency line on 03459 335577. 

 We have lots of exciting events coming up over the next few months with incredible wildlife experiences from immersive history and geology walks to a spectacular dawn chorus of thousands of Geese flighting from the Reserve. Our full list of events are available to view and download on the events tab on the blog.

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Spring Update

 

It has been a strange Spring with the weather flip flopping between summer like temperatures before the wind veers to the north and we are plunged back into cold but it has stayed relatively dry thoughout. This has played havoc with the natural cycles of the Reserve.

It’s that time of year again when the dunes are bursting with the sound of bird song and the amazing array of botany is beginning to push its way through the sandy loam. Masses of Cowslips have been observed in full bloom on the Reserve amongst the Dog-Violets, Primroses and Bird’s Foot Trefoil. The first Orchids are now finally making their appearance taking full advantage of the shorter sward created by the cattle over winter.

Cowslip in full bloom

Shorebird season is now in full swing with all breeding species now on the Reserve and busy establishing territory. The Shorebird refuge at the northern half of Ross Sands is now in place until early September. 

Ross Sands map (Red line shows the start of the refuge north)

This area doesn’t just benefit shorebirds, it allows many other species including Grey Seals to rest, feed and breed without human and dog disturbance. Additional fenced off Shorebird Protection Areas can be found across the Reserve in areas such as Budle Bay and Goswick. Please do not enter these areas, they are likely to contain breeding birds. It is important to remember that shorebirds can nest anywhere along the coast so please be careful when walking on the Reserve and keep dogs on a short lead or at close heel and prevented from disturbing wildlife at all times. We have a new free leaflet available for download on the left hand side of the blog giving information on how you can help shorebirds when walking on the Reserve and wider coast.

Little Terns feeding

We have a packed schedule of events this year with lots of walks, talks and wildlife experiences to sink your teeth into. The formal events list is available on our blog website and posters in the Chare Ends car park and bird hides across the Reserve. There will also be pop-up events regularly occurring throughout the year so keep up to date with all our social media feeds for more information. Natural England are celebrating the 70th anniversary of first National Nature Reserve designation this year so look out for a special event this summer celebrating the NNR and the amazing nature that thrives within Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Trial Dog Zonation Scheme 2021 – key findings and conclusions

The fixed-term trial was part of our on-going byelaw review, to ensure we have the best mechanisms in place to support our management of Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.

Bird disturbance surveys and zone adherence surveys were carried out to collect data on the effectiveness of the trial.  Data was collected by NNR staff, volunteers, an MSc Student from Newcastle University with data forwarded to Ecological Consulting for independent analysis.  Several letters, emails and phone calls were also received by NNR staff relating to the scheme. These have been collated to draw together the following key findings:

  •          The current byelaw about keeping dogs on lead or close at heel to prevent the disturbance of wildlife was not sufficiently clearly explained, which meant that visitors to the NNR believed they were keeping to the byelaw with their dogs off their lead running or walking some distance from themselves.
  •          There was very low awareness by the general public, including local people, that there is an existing a byelaw within Lindisfarne NNR requiring visitors to keep their dog under close control.: bringing into, or permitting to remain within the Reserve; (i) any dog unless it is kept on a lead or at heel and is prevented from worrying or disturbing any animal or bird, or (ii) any other animal
  •          Visitor numbers have increased significantly to the NNR in the last few years and those areas of the NNR which were once relatively undisturbed are now attracting increasingly large number of visitors.
  •          The existing Shorebird Protection Areas continued to be effective in providing a refuge for breeding, roosting, and feeding shorebirds and the 2021 season witnessed the highest count of breeding Little Terns and Arctic Terns since formal recording commenced in the early 1970s.
  •           Disturbance surveys indicate that walkers with and without dogs, impact breeding & non-breeding shore birds across the NNR.
  •          The Dog Zonation scheme was successful in reducing disturbance to the key areas in the red zones (and supporting higher bird numbers as a consequence), where disturbance from dogs (and people) was generally at only a very low level. This success was largely attributable to the active wardening at those locations.
  •          Compliance with the amber zone rules was generally low. Dogs were frequently observed off-lead and overall disturbance levels were very high in the southern part of the Budle Bay amber zone, in the Chare Ends amber zone adjacent to Holy Island village and along the Pilgrim’s Way. The analyses showed that the levels of disturbance were such that waterbird numbers of a range of species in these areas were reduced (though other species appeared more resilient to disturbance).

 

1.       CONCLUSIONS

In reviewing the evidence, Natural England have come to the following conclusions in addressing the management of people and dogs across the NNR:

  •        We will not continue the dog zonation scheme in future years.
  •         We will continue to maintain our current suite of seasonal Shorebird Protection Areas and will look for opportunities to extend the number or size of areas where appropriate, as wildlife refugia have been shown to be an effective measure to protect against disturbance.
  •         We will work with our other partners including the National Trust and Space for Shorebirds to identify whether there are other sites outside the NNR which would benefit from developing small wildlife refugia.
  •          Further work is required to better inform visitors coming to Northumberland about the unique and special qualities of Lindisfarne NNR and its importance for wildlife nationally and internationally.
  •          We will improve our interpretation to better explain to visitors about the importance and value of Lindisfarne NNRs unique bird assemblage and better explain why both winter and summer birds are sensitive to disturbance and how visitors can support our approach to conservation management of these internationally important species.
  •          We will work to better communicate the importance for the control of dogs when visiting the NNR and the legal requirement for dog owners to not allow their dogs to disturb wildlife.
  •         We will seek to revise the current wording of the byelaw to provide much greater clarity; requiring owners to have their dogs on a short lead at all times when visiting the NNR.
  •         We will work with tourism businesses and accommodation providers to look at ways in which we can provide positive information to visitors coming to Northumberland with their dogs, welcoming them to the NNR, identifying suitable dog walks in and close to the NNR and alerting them to problems with Pirri-pirri bur and how best to avoid them.
  •         We will also improve information to visitors to reinforce important messages around not disturbing the seal population within the NNR.
  •         We will investigate the use of our staff and volunteers having access to body cameras when patrolling our sites to reduce the incidents of abuse that they have suffered whilst on duty.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Beach Clean

 Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has had an enjoyable festive period and is ready to tackle the New Year with vigour and gusto. It has been a busy start to 2022 and thankfully we have been blessed with glorious wall to wall sunshine throughout much of January making it feel very spring like at times. 

Last week, the cattle, who have been munching their way through much of the rank grasses across the Links since October, left the island. They have done a fantastic job and we should see the effects of their work in spring when the botanically rich dunes burst into flower. The sheep, who have been doing a similar job in the Snook, left a few days later. They have been also tackling some of the invasives such as Michaelmas Daisy. 

Cows gathered ready to be taken off the island

We also had our first event of the year yesterday - a beach clean on North Shore and luckily the weather gods were on our side. Sixteen volunteers and members of the public joined us on a beautiful winter's morning to scour the shore for litter. A lot of litter, tyres and fishing gear has washed up in the winter storms, particularly in the wake of Storm Arwen; leaving plenty for people to get their teeth stuck into. The large amounts of rubbish that washes up on the shore is only a fraction of what is floating out there. Small bits of plastic can be mistaken for food and rope and monofilament fishing line can be sources of entanglement for shorebirds and marine life.

Volunteers amongst a pile of rubbish on the North Shore

Thank you to everyone that came out to lend a hand. Keep your eyes peeled on our social media channels for more information about upcoming events. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Storm Arwen

 Well it has been an eventful week. Storm Arwen struck the Northumberland coast at full force last Friday evening with northerly winds peaking at over 100mph. A testament to the ferocity of the storm was a 90 year-old Holy Islander who said he had never seen anything that strong from the north in his lifetime! The storm left a trail of destruction with whole swathes of forests flattened, structural damage to buildings and hundreds of thousands of people left without power.

The Met Office warnings associated with Storm Arwen and Lindisfarne NNR location

 Here at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve we were smack bang in the middle of the rare Red Met Office warning area. The strongest of the winds arrived overnight into Saturday, luckily on a falling neap tide meaning damage to the Reserve was reasonably light. However, the causeway was significantly damaged by the strong currents as the tide rose. Our bird hides suffered some damage to roofs and screens. Several trees were also down across fences and we lost several signs.

Storm damage to the causeway

Welcome sign was washed further down the coast from the causeway. Now thankfully retrieved

However, the thing that suffered the most, as always, was the wildlife. Stormy seas prevented birds from feeding and the severe cold and wind chill accompanied by the exceptional winds meant that all there energy was focused into keeping warm. A storm surge accompanying the winds caused the intertidal area to be covered for longer periods than normal depriving Wildfowl and Waders from the mudflats and essential food.

Thousands of pieces of Dead Man's Fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) - a species of soft cold water coral - were ripped from the seabed owing to the power of the storm

During winter it is vital that the wintering bird populations are not disturbed as many of the birds at Lindisfarne NNR have migrated thousands of miles to reach this protected oasis. When they arrive they are almost on deaths door having used huge amounts of energy to fly here. All their time is spent feeding up and resting, gaining fat reserves to make the daunting journey. 

Regular disturbance effects the birds in two ways. Firstly birds waste important energy resources and fat reserves flying away from disturbance sources. If this happens frequently enough the birds won't lay down enough fat reserves to keep warm through the winter months and to make the long journey back to their breeding grounds in the high arctic thus resulting in a death sentence for many. Secondly, the feeding grounds on the Reserve are intertidal with many species feeding on the worms and molluscs within the mudflats or on the eel grass beds. This means that the feeding areas are only uncovered by the tide for certain parts of the day. If the birds are moved off these areas the amount of time they can feed is vastly reduced resulting in less fat reserves and less resilience to bad weather. Please be aware of feeding birds when visiting the coast and give them the space they need to feed and rest.




Friday, 19 November 2021

November update

 When the clocks go back and bonfire night is over it always feels as if the winter has set in and Christmas is looming on the horizon but the remarkably mild weather has meant that I have barely broke out the winter coat yet! This time of year is always so special with thousands of wintering wildfowl and waders utilising the expansive mudflats and eelgrass beds to feed and rest after migrating from the high arctic. Vast aerial displays of Golden Plover and Knot can regularly be viewed and the chattering of hundreds of Light-bellied Brent Geese feeding close into the causeway is always an amazing sight.

It is a tricky time of year to get essential practical works complete, fighting against the tides and the limited hours of daylight. However, this hasn’t stopped us getting stuck in with some of our regular volunteers as we commenced our practical task days again for the first time in 2 years. First up was clearing patches of Montbretia – a lovely garden plant but has escaped and become established in some parts of the dunes. This forms a monoculture and outcompetes native species resulting in it’s quick spread. We have also been tackling areas of scrub regeneration which can take hold and spread across the floristically diverse dune slacks around the Snook. We will be holding several more task days in the run up to Christmas so if you would like to volunteer please email andy.denton@naturalengland.org.uk for more information.


Montbretia removal with volunteers 

Scrub Removal with volunteers

Events have been held throughout the Autumn providing wildlife experiences and educating people about the NNR and about best practice for viewing wildlife. Our last event – Dawn chorus at Budle Bay was particularly memorable as thousands of Geese flew low right over our heads filling the air with their iconic ‘wink wink’ calls as the sun slowly rose above the horizon casting pink and orange hues across the sky. We will still be holding some pop-up events so keep your eyes peeled on our social media sites and blog website. We will also be putting together our full events programme for the 2022 season over the winter months. All events are free so please drop-by in and experience the amazing habitats and wildlife and learn more about the National Nature Reserve.

Dawn Chorus event at Budle Bay platform

Natural England is now lead partner in an exciting new EU Life project called WADER, aiming to address some of the biggest environmental issues on the North Northumberland Coast. This project will give us extra resource to deliver our management plan and add value to the National Nature Reserve. For more information follow @LifeWader on Twitter. A website will also be up and running soon.