Monday, 20 April 2020

Y is for Why

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.

A little bit of a play on the words but I thought it would be a good idea answer some of the questions we get asked while out and about on the Reserve.

Why do we protect the shorebirds on the Reserve? 
One of our major projects every year at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is to protect and monitor the shorebirds that breed here. As with most bird species, Shorebirds have had a rough time over recent decades with huge amounts of habitat loss due to human development on the coast and hard engineering to stop coastal erosion. Human disturbance has increased massively in Northumberland over the last 10-15 years and Lindisfarne can now expect to see more that 500,000 visitors a year. All these people put tremendous pressure on our Shorebirds ability to nest and rear young successfully as they are often constantly disturbed. This is a picture that is repeated up and down the coastline. Little Terns are now one of the rarest breeding birds in the UK and the Ringed Plover breeding population has crashed so dramatically in the last 15 years that it has been put on the UK red list. Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve has important successful breeding numbers of both. Therefore it is vital that we monitor and protect these birds by blocking off and fencing off some areas of beaches to allow them the space and time to nest and rear their young in peace.

Why do birds choose to winter at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve?
Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is like an all-inclusive holiday for the birds that winter here with an all you can eat buffet of worms and molluscs just waiting to be delved into. Most of the Reserve's wintering birds have migrated from the high Arctic, where they have been breeding. To avoid the brutal winters and frozen tundra, to feed, they need to head south. Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is situated perfectly geographically with the prevailing weather coming from the south west and the sea being fed by the warm waters of the gulf stream. This results in the mild winters with other places at the same latitude in Russia and Cananda covered in permafrost! This means that the birds do not have to migrate as far south, making Britain stand out like a beacon. Another benefit of the mild winters is the ground and sea is rarely frozen so access to the all important food resource is always available. Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve with its vast intertidal mudflats and surrounding farmland provides a perfect wintering site.
Up to half the worlds population of East Atlantic Light-bellied Brent Geese winter on the Reserve ©JJD
 Why should dogs be kept on leads on the Reserve?

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve receives over 500,000 visitors a year and a good proportion of those visitors will have dogs. We ask that all visitors with dogs keep them on a short lead (around 1.5m). This is due to disturbance of breeding and wintering birds on the Reserve. Birds are incredibly sensitive to human and dog disturbance and with so many miles of our coastline used by people and there canine counterparts there is very little nesting and roosting space left. The breeding birds on the Reserve are primarily ground nesters and can be easily disturb without realising it. If disturbed too much the birds will simply abandon their nest. During winter large roosting flocks of birds build up across the whole Reserve. A target that free running dogs find hard to resist! Constant bombardment of these birds cause them to constantly fly to find less disturbed areas. This results in reduced feeding time and opportunity which in tern can cause reduced survival through the winter and the long arduous migration back north come spring. Within the dunes Pirri-pirri bur is prevalent and easily picked up by dogs running along paths and due to people and dogs has now spread well beyond the boundary on the Reserve. We want to keep the Reserve as a haven for wildlife so if you are out on the Reserve please keep your dog on a short lead at all times. Try to walk on the wet hard sand away from potential breeding areas and give any roosting flocks of birds plenty of space.

Why can't you light campfires on the Reserve?
A lot of people do not realise the danger that wildfires can pose in a dune system. Without trees people think that any fire will be small and easily containable. This is not the case. During periods of dry weather, usually with a helping coastal breeze to further dry out vegetation, dune grassland can get tinderbox dry, just waiting for an errant spark to explode out of control. These fires can be extremely quick to take hold with large flames racing across the grassland and can quickly lead to deadly situations. Dune fires have occurred on Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve before; thankfully with no loss of life, but they have caused devastation to the dunes delicate ecosystem, causing large burn scars on the landscape. Even when fires haven't caused a wildfire, damage is often noted with disposable barbeque scorch marks on the ground killing off scarce and rare plant communities.

Why do cattle and sheep graze on the Reserve in winter?
Sheep and cattle are moved onto the Reserve in the autumn months once the breeding birds have left as part of a conservation grazing initiative. The aim is for the livestock to remove the rank vegetation from the dune system allowing the botanically rich grassland to flourish come spring. This reduces the amount of labour intensive cutting that is required as natures lawnmowers can graze a large area and are working 24 hours a day.
Cows grazing on the Reserve

Why is Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve so important?
Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is a mosaic of intertidal and terrestrial habitats covering 65km of coastline and 3,500 hectares. As a National Nature Reserve, it has been regarded as one of the best examples of intertidal, marsh and dune habitats in the country and is also nationally and internationally noted for its breeding and wintering bird assemblages. The marsh and intertidal areas store vast amounts of carbon, the protection of which is integral to our fight against climate change. The site is protected with numerous designations but it is so much more than that. Its our connection with wildlife and landscapes, which we are fast on the way to loosing. Whether it be seeing thousands of Geese lift with their calls filling the air, thousands of waders spiralling around in frenetic aerial displays trying to avoid a marauding Peregrine. Carpets of Orchids as far as the eye, the haunting singing of seals across the landscape or visual migrations of birds and butterflies fresh in from the sea. Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve provides a refuge where we can connect back with nature, a gift that is priceless.
Beautiful sunset over the intertidal area at Lindisfarne NNR ©JJD

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