Tuesday, 14 April 2020

S is for Shorebirds

Please remember! We ask that people do not visit the Reserve particularly if you have to travel. All car parks on Holy Island are closed to visitors until government restrictions are lifted. Many residents on Holy island fall into the vulnerable category. Please adhere to these guidelines for the health and safety of yourself and others during this time.

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is a haven for shorebirds to nest and raise young with its 65km of coastline. Little Terns are one of the rarest UK breeding birds making the migration from tropical Africa to the shores of the UK every year to breed. At Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve a colony breeds on the beaches, laying up to three eggs in a small scrape. Nesting in the middle of a beach makes these birds extremely vulnerable from numerous issues. Climate change means that rising sea levels result in increasingly higher tides and storm surges that can devastate colonies in a single event. Ground predators such as Badgers, Foxes and even Hedgehogs can eat eggs and fledglings as well as avian predators such as Kestrels, Gulls and Crows. However, the biggest issue and one that seems to be only increasing is human disturbance. People flock to beaches around the UK during the summer months, coinciding with the breeding season of our shorebirds and Northumberland with its miles of beautiful sandy beaches is no exception. Over the last decade visitor numbers have dramatically increased in this corner of the world pushing our breeding shorebirds into ever increasing smaller pockets of undisturbed land to breed.
Adult Little Tern brooding a chick

It was for these reasons that the Breeding Shorebird Protection Scheme at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve was devised. Every spring staff and a small army of volunteers erect protective fencing around a number of key breeding locations, closing areas of beach in some locations. The electric fences offer protection from ground predators and boundary fences give a buffer from public disturbance.  These sites are then monitored and protected 24 hours a day seven days a week by shorebird wardens. Aside from Little Terns the wardens also monitor populations of Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Oystercatcher, Eider Duck and Ringed Plover.  As Ringed Plovers are not colony nesters they can be a lot harder to spot and therefore are a lot more prone to disturbance, with many people oblivious to the fact that they have caused disturbance of any kind. Wardens carry out Ringed Plover surveys across the whole site and beyond to find territories and where possible protect them with fencing to allow them to nest in peace. All the population and productivity data is shared with other organisations to supply a nationwide picture of the plight of the UK’s shorebirds.
Adult Ringed Plover
Colony nesters - Little Terns
Where areas of beach have been blocked off there is a marked difference in the way bird life behave. Survival rates are far higher as birds do not abandon their nests. Fledglings also have a safer area to feed and learn before heading off on migration as they will not be getting flushed all the time. Loafing terns and waders use the areas as safe refuges with large numbers visible along the coastline of the protected areas.
Fenced off areas of the beach - if you see the this give it space.
The Primatologist Jane Goodall said ‘Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, will we help’ and that is why education is key. If we can alter the way people think and use beaches we can solve half the problem straight away. The vast majority of people that we interact with are genuinely unaware of the disturbance they are causing and are happy to stick to the rules once they understand why. The shorebird wardens are a key part of this process, talking to people on the ground, showing and telling visitors about the shorebirds as well as enforcing the bye-laws of the Reserve when visitors are seen to be flouting these rules. Alongside this we run a series of shorebird events highlighting the plight of the shorebirds and what people can do to help.
Making Ringed Plover puppets - a shorebird craft event
The protection and monitoring has proved a success with additional stable and viable colonies now well established on the Reserve. However, we are always looking to extend this success story not just to other areas of the Reserve but up and down the Northumberland Coast.

If you are visiting the Reserve please keep dogs on a short lead at all times and if you see any fencing that has been erected please do not approach. These are areas that have been selected as key breeding areas. Please allow the birds space to nest.

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