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.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Sun, Sea and Sand... A Shorebird Warden's Tale

Katherine Dunsford, Lead Shorebird Warden for 2019, reflects upon two seasons of wardening and looks forward to the next: 

I began my time on Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve on placement as Shorebird Warden. I was offered a placement as it was my first season working on the Breeding Shorebirds Protection Scheme and it was the perfect opportunity to gain experience from the wardens about how to successfully protect and monitor the birds, as well as how to engage with members of the public and encourage them to support the need to conserve rare and declining shorebirds.

Building on the knowledge I gained during the 2017 season, the following year I was offered a traineeship by Natural England and Coast Care as Shorebird Warden and Engagement Officer based at Lindisfarne NNR. This was a huge step up from the previous season, as I was given the responsibility of creating rotas for staff and volunteers, as well as training new volunteers and ensuring they were supported during the season. Due to the resignation of a contract Shorebird Warden, I spent a large amount of time at one of the main breeding areas on the Reserve than first expected.

Everything was going well for the birds – lovely warm weather and constant protection from disturbance and predators – until Storm Hector hit in mid-June. Despite valiant efforts from the wardens, many of the Little Tern nests failed. However, the Storm was a blip in the glorious sunshine, and favourable conditions made it possible for those birds to re-lay. In 2018 the Reserve was the most important site for both Little Terns and Ringed Plovers in the North East and I would like to think I played my own little part in contributing to this success. 

Staff and Volunteers at one of the nesting sites on Lindisfarne NNR in 2018
Photo © A Ivison

We are now fast approaching the 2019 Shorebird Breeding Season, and Ringed Plovers are already forming territories around the Reserve. I am lucky enough to be back on Lindisfarne NNR this year, taking on the role as Lead Shorebird Warden: supporting the recruitment and training of staff and volunteers, coordinating daily data collection and working closely with partners to get a better understanding of the numbers of Little Terns and Ringed Plovers breeding on the Northumberland Coast. We are hoping that our birds will do just as well, if not better this coming year!

Adult Ringed Plover  © JDD

In addition to the Shorebird Protection Scheme, this year we are building on the successes of a Ringed Plover survey done by staff and volunteers at Lindisfarne and the Long Nanny during previous seasons to gain a deeper understanding of the numbers of these little birds breeding on the Northumberland coast. We are hoping to work alongside the National Trust and the Northumberland Coast AONB to do this, as we need volunteers up and down the coast to monitor and map Ringed Plover territories. If you are interested in getting involved in either project, there will be an information session at the Coast Care Hut in Seahouses on Monday 1st April at 2pm. Alternatively please call the Lindisfarne NNR office on 01289 381470 for more information. 

Juvenile Ringed Plover  © JDD

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Ella's work experience diary: a week at Lindisfarne NNR

Work experience student Ella joined us for a week to help out with work on the Reserve and learn a little more about what a career in conservation might entail. Read more in her own words below:


I was shown around the reserve base by Ceris and shown all fire exits, then introduced to my week with a talk from Andrew. I was taken out to meet a volunteer John and we walked through the beautiful sand dunes and over the fields where the cows graze in the summer. We got to Ross Back Sands beach and I was shown how to use a telescope and a pair of binoculars - it was hard at first but I got there in the end.

I saw harbour porpoises, a seal and many types of birds. I can now recognise certain birds like redshanks. It was cool to see a bird and then refer to the bird book to get more information on them. After a couple of hours we walked back and drove to Holy Island harbour. We saw around 400 seals hauled out on an island opposite. I could see them perfectly through the telescope. Through the naked eye they looked like rocks! We went back to the reserve for lunch and I started creating displays for the reserve about nurdles and single use plastics, learning about how there will be soon more plastic in the ocean than fish and that the amount of plastic being put into the ocean is equivalent to a dumping truck full to the brim of plastic emptying its contents into the ocean every minute.

Redshank © JJD



I was introduced to Kristian from Coast Care who was sitting in on the event that morning to see how Natural England run their volunteer events. I then met four more interesting volunteers who were lovely and friendly and learned a lot in conversations about degree and career choices and what it’s really like to go into conservation. We got our equipment and went through safety precautions and then we cut down willow on the Snook to prevent the sand dunes turning into woodland. I learnt how to use secateurs and got stuck right into the job. It was hard work but felt very rewarding seeing it all in a pile at the end. We found a skylark nest and carried that back to the car to use for educational purposes - to point out how they don’t stand out and show how easy it is for you or your dog to trample and destroy one of them.

I sorted out the Reserve’s t-shirts into sizes and recorded how many of each they had. Then we went back out and did a photo shoot in the t-shirts. We chose backgrounds such as the Causeway and the Beacons which are very scenic. 

We then did a seal watch, engaging and educating the public by showing them the seals hauled out through the telescope. We got the key messages across about keeping your dogs on leads, keeping to the paths allowed and being aware that seals hauled out on the beach are normally fine and not to bother them as it will scare them.


I’ve loved my work experience so far, it’s been brilliant. Especially in comparison to some of my friends who told me they have been just sat on a spinning chair and left to do nothing all day. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting stuck in on my hands and knees out and about seeing things and talking to people. We went out to the rocky shore on Holy Island turning over rocks in the rock pools on the hunt for Corella eumyota, the orange-tipped sea squirt. We had to remove them as they are not native species, and have travelled from places like Indonesia on ships or bits of plastic. I recorded results by tallying how many rocks we turned over and filling in two tables, one for mid shore and one for upper shore. I described the rocks that did have Corella in these tables, including their size, rock type, percentage of Corella and percentage of sessile species. I also helped by measuring the rocks’ width and length using a ruler and filming/photographing exciting animals such as worms and anemones. Corella must be removed as they compete for space and food with the native species and we have to give the native animals a fair chance. I carried the sample pot back to the reserve and weighed the Corella out on scales with a paper towel underneath. The weight came to just over 2 grams.


I added to my diary of the week, then went out with Ceris and Katherine to meet a volunteer John in a hide to bird watch and identify birds. I learnt how to identify more birds such as curlew and shelduck. I also practiced my telescope skills which by today had improved drastically from the start of the week. We then came back for lunch and then went out to put signs up on the cliff edges to improve the public’s safety and awareness near the edges. We walked ages around the fields to get there and it was beautiful and then went to another hide to bird watch on the way back. Back at the base, I started a report on Corella. 


I learnt a lot about how to complete scientific reports as I made graphs, tables, drew conclusions from data, wrote up the method and researched Corella, developing my knowledge and my skills in researching.

In the afternoon we went to a beach and picked up litter using a wheelbarrow and bags. I learnt lots from the litter pick - how to be safe and what to look out for like dangerous chemicals, bombs and sharp materials. Throughout the week Katherine and Ceris got me to go through the risk assessment for each activity, asking me questions and making me think for myself which was useful. We saw a short-eared owl on the route home and I learnt how to identify it from its yellow eyes and distinctive ‘ears’ before travelling back over the causeway.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Selected peak bird counts: February 2019

Geese and swans:

6500 Pink-footed, 950 Barnacle, 37 Greylag, 1262 Light-bellied Brent, 50 Whoopers

Image ©  JJD


1500 Wigeon, 1046 Shelduck, 223 Pintail, 338 Eider, 1 Smew, 4 Long-tailed Duck


1835 Knot, 2623 Dunlin, 970 Curlew, 59 Turnstone, 3 Black-tailed Godwit, 337 Bar-tailed Godwit

128 Black-headed Gull, 235 Common Gull, 52 Herring Gull

Monday, 11 March 2019

Ross Back Sands beach clean

An update from Reserve and Coast Care volunteer Andy Pigg on last Thursday's beach clean of Ross Back Sands: 

Firstly the weather conditions along the Sands of driving wind and rain, swirling sand and temperatures in the low single figures, made for quite a challenging experience. 

Undeterred a group of eleven stoic volunteers ventured out along the coastline determined to complete the task in hand. 

Our only observers: a few curious Grey Seals following us along the coast. What must they have been thinking? 

Four hours later and still smiling we had managed to dig out and recover seven lobster pots, a good haul of rope and rags, a discarded 20 litre container and an old boot along with approximately five Ikea bags of rubbish.

Many thanks to all who ventured out into the wind and rain to help care for the Reserve. You have our (Grey) Seal of Approval! 

Friday, 8 March 2019

Introducing some of the Reserve's women in science

Prompted by International Women's Day, we sat down to chat to some of the Reserve's team. In recent years, numbers of women in science and conservation have hugely increased and women work in a number of roles in Natural England and at Lindisfarne NNR. We spoke to Lucy May, Catherine Scott, Elaine Young, Katherine Dunsford and Ceris Aston about what made them love science.

What do you do?

Lucy: I am a Marine Lead Advisor, Responsible Officer for Lindisfarne SSSI.
Catherine: I am the local fisheries lead and monitoring and evidence lead, so I get to come to Lindisfarne because it is a multidesignated site and a jewel on the north east coast which needs to be protected for future generations.
Elaine: My role is Senior Marine Advisor, so I oversee the delivery of all the marine work in Northumbria. 
Katherine: I am the Reserve’s Winter Warden, surveying non-native species on the Reserve and leading volunteer and school events.
Ceris: I’m an apprentice – so a bit of everything, with a mixture of admin, habitat management, events and outreach, and biological monitoring.

What first inspired a love of science/ conservation?

Lucy: Someone gave me a microscope for Christmas when I was about ten years old and I had to look at everything through a microscope, so when my brother got nits…
I then moved on to bigger things.
Catherine: Rockpooling with my dad from ages 2 - current. There was always something new and magic- every rock was like Christmas; you turn over a boulder and it’s like a Christmas present.
Elaine: For me it was through my passion for travelling – the more I travelled the more I realised my passion for science and conservation, which inspired me to follow a career in conservation.
Katherine: I grew up on the Northumberland coast and spent a lot of my childhood on the beach. It made me fall in love with the coast.
Ceris: I did a project on Scottish Wildlife when I was about nine… where all my classmates submitted about ten pages, I handed in a bulky folder. I did my research!

Catherine and Katherine explore rock pools

What did you study?

Lucy: I did Conservation, Biology and Ecology at Exeter University in Cornwall, then had a beach bum life for a few years, then went to Bangor and did Marine Biology.
Catherine: HND in Applied Biology, then a BSc in Marine Biology, and then a PhD in Marine Ecology focusing on Arctic Marine Ecosystems and the population community ecology between the ice system and the pelagic system.
Elaine: I have an MSc in Environmental Management from Stirling University – I thought at the time Marine was too focused and was looking at the bigger picture. 
Katherine: A BSc in Marine Biology and Oceanography.
Ceris: A bit different… I did an MA in Liberal Arts (Philosophy). After several years in journalism, publishing and the women’s sector I changed career. I've almost completed my Level 2 Certificate and Diploma in Environmental Conservation.

Catherine and Lucy

What do love most about your job?

Lucy: I love the fact that every day is different and I get to work outside. And I like diving – it’s as close as you can get to being a fish.
Catherine: The people and being outside, categorically.
Elaine: I feel really lucky because it’s so varied and it is obviously something that I am passionate about. I feel like I can really make a difference.
Katherine: I love how varied it is. I get to be outside and constantly learn new things.
Ceris: I love being outside and learning, and feeling as though I can make a bit of a difference in protecting the natural world.

Catherine exploring

Monday, 25 February 2019

February update

It feels as though February has only just begun, but the shortest month is drawing already to an end. It has been a busy month and the team have been working hard to complete habitat management tasks on the Reserve. In the dunes on the Snook we have been tackling scrub – hand pulling and cutting hawthorn to maintain duneland habitats for flora and fauna. Larger hawthorn shrubs are kept due to their importance for passerine birds. We have also been continuing to remove sheep droppings from the grazed dune slacks, in order to create nutrient-poor habitats in which orchids will thrive.

It feels like spring is already upon us. The mild weather has seen amphibians emerge - on the wet slack near the Snook we spotted a large Common Frog with golden rimmed eyes and a palpitating throat. Fluttering skylarks are singing in the dunes. At the Lough, Mallards are pairing up. These distinctive birds are early breeders amongst ducks.

We tested people’s duck knowledge at a ‘Love Birds’ event last week, challenging children and adults alike to pair up images of some of the Reserve’s duck species. Mallards and Eider provided no difficulties, Teal and Shoveller baffled some, whilst the brightly coloured Shelduck surprised those who believed all female ducks to be brown and subdued in colour. The event launched our year’s events programme which seeks to engage the interest of locals and visitors alike in our natural world and the spectacular wildlife and habitats of the Reserve. Events range from rocky shore rambles to recycling events, from beach cleans to bird watches.

Eider Duck © JJD
We have been continuing non-native species monitoring and removal, moving from the terrestrial to the marine environment. We have been surveying the Reserve’s rocky shore, a fascinating and diverse habitat which is currently under threat from small alien invaders, who hitched lifts on ships from the southern hemisphere. These aliens are Orange-Tipped Sea Squirt, small creatures resembling Werther’s Originals or small lumps of orange-tinted jelly. They live on the bottom of rocks and compete with other sessile (non-moving) species for space, a valuable commodity on the rocky shore, and for food. Monitoring and removal of the species is ongoing.

We are busy too preparing for shorebird season – it is not so long until the end of April, when the rare Little Terns will return to breed on Northumberland’s sandy beaches. Charismatic Ringed Plover are already starting to establish breeding territories across the Reserve.

Peak counts of birds on the Reserve include 1000 Bar-tailed Godwits on the high tide roost at St. Cuthbert’s Island, 223 Pintail on Fenham Flats and 1000 light-bellied Brent geese south of Fenham Flats on the 17th Feb, 6500 Pink-footed geese on the Reserve on the 1st and 950 Barnacle geese recorded during a low-tide count on the 10th February.

Bar-tailed Godwit © JJD