Thursday, 22 July 2021

Focus on.... Oystercatcher

 Next in our series is the Oystercatcher. Oystercatchers are a noisy addition to the suite of breeding shorebirds that use Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve to breed, feed and roost. As with many shorebirds across the UK, Oystercatchers are in decline and as a result are now amber listed.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Focus on.... Ringed Plover

We will be starting a series of blog posts focusing on certain species of birds and plants that make Lindisfarne NNR special. The fact file will include information about their habitat and ecology as well as why Lindisfarne NNR is an important site for the species.  We start the series with the Ringed Plover. This species is often overlooked, owing to its diminutive size and well camouflaged nesting habits.


Monday, 17 May 2021

Spring-ing into action

 Spring is always an extremely busy time on the Reserve with the flowering dunes waking up from their long winter slumber and the thousands of departing over wintering geese, ducks and waders handing over the baton to the breeding birds that use the Reserve to breed and feed throughout the summer months.

April was a spectacular month in terms of sun but there was big diurnal ranges with extensive and hard frosts throughout the month and even a thick covering of snow on the Cheviots as we entered May. These cold nights have had a definite effect on the wildlife and botany across the Reserve with many things such as the early flowering Orchids appearing much later than normal.

Orchids have been later this year

By the end of April the dunes were tinderbox dry with wildfires becoming an increasing risk factor. In addition to the disturbance caused this is another major reason why we don’t permit wild camping and any fires or barbecues on the Reserve. Thankfully, May has been more unsettled so far, giving the ground a necessary dousing of rain. The wetter weather doesn’t appear to have affected the ground nesting Skylarks and Meadow Pipits who can be seen and heard frenetically singing above their territory warding away other birds with breeding bird surveys showing good numbers using the site.

The action isn’t just limited to the dunes though, with shorebirds using the beaches to nest, feed and rest. We already have a number of active nests across the Reserve. But the sad fact is nationally, we are losing these birds at a rapid rate with one of the main causes of failure at the nesting site being human and dog disturbance

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is a stronghold for Ringed Plovers and Little Terns and so it is vitally important that we protect them. Little Terns are one of the rarest breeding birds in the UK and a Schedule 1 species meaning that it is a criminal offence to disturb them. Breeding Ringed Plovers have declined by over 65% in Northumberland and overwintering numbers have declined nationally by 50% in the last 30 years. This has resulted in the species being put on the Red List in the UK.

Ringed Plover feeding in the intertidal areas of the Reserve ©JJD

To combat the declines, areas are protected by wardens throughout the summer as part of the Shorebird Protection Scheme. This not only protects the breeding birds but the exclusion zones provide a wider benefit to feeding and roosting birds, providing a safe area to live, survive and thrive. However, shorebirds can nest anywhere along the coast so it is important to be aware, wherever you are walking on the Reserve. All the breeding Terns are back and the roost sites are continually building in number. Courtship behaviour has been observed in Little Terns so hopefully it won’t be long until the first scrapes are seen.

Little Tern brooding a chick ©Kevin Simmonds

To assist in decreasing the disturbance across the Reserve and further, a trial Dog Zonation Initiative is now in place until 1st September. Dog zonation maps are in place at every main access point on the Reserve. For more information about this initiative and why it is needed, please read the Dog zone Initiative tab at the top of this page or ring the Reserve office on 01289381470. The current bylaws of the Reserve are also available to read via a tab at the top of the page.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Dog Zonation Trial 2021

        Dog Zone Initiative

Birds that are nesting, resting or feeding need undisturbed space to live, survive and thrive.

What is Proposed ?

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve (LNNR) will introduce a trial dog zoning scheme for spring and summer 2021. This will consist of three zones shown in the map below:

·         No dogs area - the area around the Wide Opens extending to Ross Back Sands south and north to the Beacons and Blackl Law; and the western section of Budle Bay

·         An area where dogs will be allowed to be exercised off their leads -  the North Shore on Holy Island (maximum of 2 dogs per individual & owners must still be in control of their dogs and must be able to get them back to heel quickly)

·         The remainder of the LNNR - dog owners will be required to keep their dog on a short lead (1.5 metre) at all times (maximum of 2 dogs per individual)


How long will the scheme be in place?

The three new zones will initially be introduced on a trial basis from 1 May - 1 September 2021. The Scheme will be fully evaluated and, if seen as successful, in consultation with the local community and other partners, Natural England will look to implement the Scheme fully.  The measures will be in place during the Shorebird Protection Scheme, and we will also assess the benefits in extending the Scheme to cover winter months to protect Lindisfarne NNR’s internationally important autumn and winter avian visitors.


Why is this scheme necessary?

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is internationally important for a range of wildlife and their habitats.  The NNR is home to between 50,000-60,000 birds during the autumn and winter making it the most important site in the north-east.  Both Grey and Harbour seals seek refuge to haul-out and rest at several locations throughout the site. During spring and summer, it provides refuge for the largest population of breeding Little Tern and Ringed Plover in the county.  The four other UK Tern species either breed and/or use the NNR to roost and feed.

 During the summer months, Lindisfarne NNR has for many years established a series of protection zones (five in total) for breeding shorebirds. These areas are fenced off from the public to reduce disturbance, with shorebird wardens and trained volunteers patrolling these sites and monitoring bird activity.  However, breeding shorebirds are particularly vulnerable to disturbance from dogs.  Studies have shown that even when a dog is on a lead, the presence of the animal can result in the altered behaviour of birds and other species.   This can cause ground-nesting birds to leave the nest, resulting in the abandonment of eggs or chicks.  There is evidence that dogs are having an impact at Lindisfarne NNR particularly on Ringed Plover.

Visitor numbers have been increasing exponentially for years and this was exacerbated by COVID.  Last summer saw a significant increase in the number of visitors to Lindisfarne NNR due to the impact of COVID on international travel; and the main visitor season was much longer. It is predicted the visitor numbers will increase during 2021 and this is having an impact on the Northumberland Coast and its unique wildlife.  This comes at a time when there also has been a significant increase in dog ownership.  North East England has the highest proportion of dog ownership in the UK (36% of households have a dog compared to 23% nationally) and since 2000 the number of pet dogs in the UK has increased by nearly 40%.  This initiative will hopefully help manage this increasing pressure in a proactive manner.


How will dog walkers know where they can and cannot walk their dogs?

At the main entry points and car parks, new temporary signage will be erected to explain which dog zone is in operation at that particular location. Notices will explain to dog owners that beyond a certain point they will either not be allowed to enter with their dog, enter with their dog and allow it off the lead or enter with their dog and keep it on a short lead.  Repeater signs will be erected along routes leading to the dog zones, and staff and trained volunteers will be patrolling to engage with visitors to explain the zoning system and where dogs are allowed.  Key entry points will be at informal parking and access sites across the NNR including Holy Island, Ross Links, Elwick, Waren Mill, Kiln Point, Budle Point and Cheswick and Goswick Sands

At the car park at the Snook on Holy Island, notices will inform visitors wishing to use the North Shore to responsibly exercise their dogs, that dogs need to remain on leads through the sand dunes and can only be taken off their leads once they reach the beach.  Repeater signs will be used on the route from the Snook to the North Shore beach.  Clear “you are here” maps indicating the location of the zone will be displayed.


How will the scheme be enforced on the ground?

During the trial period, the scheme will operate on the basis that most visitors will adhere to the signs, and, where they don’t, staff or trained volunteers will engage with visitors to ask them to remove their dogs from a no dog zone or put a the dog on a lead in a dogs on lead zone.  Part of the evaluation process of this trial will be to see how effective clear signage is in securing compliance.

If the Scheme is proved to be successful, it may be incorporated into the revision of the current bye-laws, which will give Natural England additional powers should there be evidence of deliberate violation of these rules.


How will the scheme be evaluated?

Our staff and volunteers will keep a record of any encounters that they have with visitors within the various zones, to assess the level of compliance.

Natural England will continue to collect data on the breeding and loafing success of the birds within the protected zones and will also use data on the number of casual passage birds and nesting Ringed Plover.  Increased numbers will be an important indicator of the success of the trial dog zone scheme.  Data on seal haul-out locations, size and activity will also be gathered.

Friday, 26 March 2021

Spring has sprung!

 It is a real clash of the seasons on the Reserve at the moment with Skylarks and Meadow Pipits singing their hearts out, establishing territory for the breeding season ahead. Fulmars are back on their breeding ledges with their familiar laughing chatter to one another and the first frogs spawn has been seen in the flooded dune slacks. But winter interest is still lingering on with Brent and Pink-footed Geese around in small numbers and Short-eared Owls, Woodcock and Jack Snipe observed in the dunes this week.

Frog spawn now can be seen on the Reserve

Skylarks now singing in the dunes ©JJD

With Skylarks and Meadow Pipits now establishing territory in the dunes it is critical that visitors stick to the paths and desire lines and keep dogs on a short lead. Also be aware that Pirri-pirri bur will be soon growing again so please check all clothes and pet fur and remove any burs before departing the site.

After the snow and ice of last month it has been nice to get out in the milder weather and do some practical work on the Reserve preparing the site for what is likely to be a very busy summer. We have been busy picking up litter and repairing some of our site infrastructure. We have also been carrying on with the disturbance surveys that we have been undertaking since last October.

Goswick Sands in a blizzard in February

Litter picked up from the dunes

Another quick reminder that we are still monitoring a small Avian Influenza outbreak so if you see any dead or sick birds please do not approach them and keep dogs on a short lead to prevent them coming into contact with infected birds. Please report any dead or sick birds to the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve Office on 01289 381470.

It won’t be long before we start re-emerging from lockdown and enjoy all the new arrivals that spring has to offer. Orchids will be bursting through the ground and we should soon be hearing the first Sandwich Terns arriving back from Africa before the Common, Arctic, Roseate and Little Tern join them a few weeks later.

Sandwich Tern in flight ©JJD

The breeding shorebirds will soon start establishing territory along the Reserve coastline and another breeding season will commence. We are currently looking to bolster our site staff and volunteers with a small team of seasonal Shorebird wardens. If you would like more information contact the Reserve office on: 01289 381470.

Shorebirds returning to breed

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Visitor numbers in 2020 - a review

As part of the management of Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve people counters are installed at strategic locations around the Reserve. Over the last year they have been constantly recording people’s visits to the site and show some interesting results as to how the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced visitor behaviour. The data below was collected from just one access point on the Reserve so doesn't reflect the total number of visitors using the site. With Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve covering over 8,000 acres the true number will be far higher.

The most obvious information that can be gleamed from the graph below is the huge surge of visitors to the site that coincided with the relaxation of lockdown rules and the opening of coastal car parks and holiday lets. While it was a boost to everyone’s well-being to get out and visit this magical place; the unprecedented numbers had a detrimental impact on the Reserve wildlife through huge amounts of disturbance from people and un-leashed dogs, with the breeding shorebirds taking the brunt of the impact.

Graph 1: depicting the daily total passes at one access point on the Reserve

The coastline of Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is widely used as a breeding site by Ringed Plover and is noted as the most important breeding site in the North-East of this red-listed bird. Several species of Tern also make epic migrations to reach the Reserve to breed, including Little Tern, a Schedule 1 species, which makes it an illegal offence to disturb them.

All our breeding sites suffered from much higher disturbance than normal which had a direct impact on their breeding productivity and chick survival. Despite signage and a wardening presence some people frequently disregarded the information and walked through the seasonal restrictions. Ringed Plover breeding attempts were lower and many birds were pushed into breeding in ever-dwindling pockets of un-disturbed land.

Incidences of wild camping and bonfires increased dramatically on the Reserve over these months. This is understandable as many people wanted to get that ‘wild’ experience after being cooped up for months. However, this is not permitted under the byelaws of the Reserve and you can be prosecuted. With bonfires, wildfire is a real risk as the marram grass during the summer can be tinderbox dry and only require an errant spark to explode into an uncontrollable inferno. Camping also means constant disturbance for our breeding birds who can be displaced from nests and abandon them without campers even realising.

We do want to welcome visitors to the site but it is also important to remember that Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is named such because it is one of the best examples of intertidal mudflats, dune systems and botanically rich humid dune slacks in the country. It supports internationally important aggregations of breeding and wintering birds as well as several rare botanical species. The Reserve is managed to protect and enhance these features with a set of byelaws that visitors must follow to reduce their impacts. The full list of byelaws can be found on the back of our visitor welcome panels dotted around the Reserve. If the Reserve is accessed in the right way, people can have minimal impact on the habitats and wildlife can thrive here. It is a delicate balance, and it can very easily flip the other way with visitors unintentionally degrading the site that they have travelled to visit.

Graph 2: Total monthly passes through a single access point on the Reserve

The first lockdown and visitor surge are clearly visible in the total monthly breakdowns graph above. January and February start as you would expect with low daily visitor numbers slowly increasing as the days get longer. March shows a levelling off of visitors as lockdown comes into force on 16th March and Holy Island car park is closed on the 25th. April is usually a very busy time on the island with many visitors visiting during the Easter break but this year was a completely different story. As we experienced the sunniest spring on record, people remained indoors as can be seen in the April people counter data. In April numbers were just half that were made in March. Once lockdown measures were relaxed in mid-May a small increase in visitors were noted but May still had less people counted than February! The numbers exploded in July and August due to the reasons discussed above. As in a normal year numbers decline into the autumn months. Between October and November there is a sharp drop to almost April numbers which is likely due to the second lockdown coming into force after Covid cases start to increase dramatically. December and January have been very quiet so far with just small peaks from Christmas and New Year walkers.

Hopefully this will be the final lockdown with such tough restrictions and we can resume some level of normality very soon. With the vaccine rollout and likely restrictions still in place on international travel we are likely to have another exceptionally busy summer on the Reserve. Once again exclusion zones will be dotted around the Reserve this summer, so to help us protect this magical place please read and adhere to any signs as you enter the site so you can enjoy the Reserve while allowing our wildlife to remain undisturbed. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Friday, 22 January 2021

New Year update


We hope everyone had a fun and restful festive break even if it was a little different to normal years. Within the first few days of 2021 we entered another lockdown and while it feels like we a stuck in a perpetual cycle of lockdowns, nature still carries on unaware. It is especially at times like these when we feel extremely fortunate and privileged to work at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. Working outdoors on an incredible site, getting a hit of nature while many others are stuck indoors. 

Stunning- the Reserve in the low winter sun ©JJD

The outbreak of Avian Influenza strain H5N8 which appeared to have mainly manifested itself in the Brent Goose population seems to have become less prevalent. Thankfully over the last month no dead or sick birds have been seen on the Reserve. However, it could still flare up so if you see any birds that are dead or seem infected please do not approach them and keep dogs on a short lead to prevent them coming into contact with them. Please report any dead or sick birds to the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve Office on 01289 381470 if found on the Reserve.

Over Christmas and into the New Year the weather became very seasonal and cold with ice seen on the causeway and the Cheviots snow-capped away in the distance. During these cold snaps it is even more important to not access the shoreline and cause unnecessary disturbance. Constant disturbance by people and dogs leads wintering birds to waste valuable energy supplies which are vital for survival during the arduous migration. As our hides are currently locked due to Covid, the platform at Budle Bay is an ideal spot to see the visual majesty of winter migration from a safe distance.

Ice on the causeway

The Cattle and Sheep have now left the Reserve after doing a fantastic job over autumn and winter grazing the Links and Snook. This is important to enhance the botanically rich dune slacks and ensure they don’t end up becoming dominated by rank grasses. The sheep also do a good job of nibbling their way through some of the invasives such as Michaelmas Daisy and some Pirri-pirri.

Cows grazing on the links

During lockdown we ask that people stay local and follow the current government guidelines. There is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout and we lock forward to being able to welcome visitors from far and wide once again and showcase this magical place.