Today the grazing sheep were taken off Holy Island. Since the end of summer there have been up to 22 sheep at the Snook as part of the Reserve vegetation management regime. Sheep are put on the sand dunes to graze the grass after the plants have flowered and gone to seed. Keeping the grass short enables orchids to flourish in the spring, including the Lindisfarne Helleborine, which is found only on Holy Island. The sheep have been particularly good at targeting Michaelmas Daisy, a horticultural escape.
The sheep are borrowed from Stephen Comber for about three months of the year as part of the Flexigraze scheme. Flexigraze is a not-for-profit business specialising in conservation grazing on important grasslands in Northeast England. See the Flexigraze blog for more information.
The sheep are enclosed by an electric fence-line, which is moved to target specific areas. The electric fence is usually very effective, but occasionally some of the sheep managed to escape - led on by a particular individual, Shaggy, who seemed to be a bad influence!
After rounding them up with a sheepdog, they were brought back on to the mainland and any Pirri-Pirri burs were removed from their fleeces to prevent it spreading. Pirri-Pirri is an invasive alien species originating from New Zealand, unfortunately it is abundant amongst the dunes on Holy Island and getting rid of it is a challenge. When visiting, please check your clothing and dogs for burs and remove them before you leave in order to prevent it from spreading.
There are also 20 cattle currently grazing on the dunes. As well as grass, they feed on Pirri-Pirri and are making a small impact. The cattle were brought to the island at the start of October and will be taken off early next year. They belong to a local farmer inland who we have worked with since the project began five years ago, 20-40 cattle are used depending on the requirements.
Cows of a placid temperament are chosen, females in-calf. But please respect them and keep dogs on leads. Keeping your dog on a lead also reduces disturbance to birds on the Reserve.
One of the plants that benefit from grazing is the beautiful Grass-of-Parnassus, also known as the 'bog star'. It flowers from July to September. In the above photograph, the Grass-of-Parnassus is surrounded by the invasive Michaelmas Daisy.
Today we also held a birdwatching drop-in event at Budle Bay, the southern part of the Reserve. Budle Bay is a perfect place to watch ducks and waders feeding on the saltmarsh in winter. Close views are possible as the birds have grown accustomed to the traffic noise and so have a higher disturbance tolerance (however, please do not walk on to the marsh as this will disturb them and it is also dangerous). About an hour before high tide is the best time as the birds are pushed towards the shore by the incoming water.
We are holding more birdwatching drop-in events in the new year, so do drop by and borrow a pair of binoculars or look through our scope free of charge, and learn more about the brilliant birds at Lindisfarne. No booking required:
- Friday 22 February, 10.30am - 12.30pm
- Saturday 23 February, 11am - 1pm
- Saturday 23 February, 11am - 1pm
At Budle Bay today, 950 Wigeon were counted and a Little Egret was seen. Little Egrets have gradually spread north in the past 20 years when they were a rarity in the UK, they are now a relatively frequent sight in Northumberland and breed in southern England.
Little Egret in flight (John Dunn)