Shorebirds in need of support

Natural England’s Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is asking for help to protect nesting shorebirds.

Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 09:42 am
A tern. Picture by Elizabeth Dack

The past few weeks have seen the return of little terns after migrating thousands of miles from West Africa.

Little terns are the second-rarest nesting seabird in the UK, and a Schedule 1 species.

This gives them special legal protection and means it is a criminal offence to disturb them.

The small charismatic waders ringed plover have been forming their territories since February. Unlike little terns, they do not nest in colonies but are spread out along the sandy coastline.

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Like many UK waders, they have seen steep declines in their breeding success.

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve stretches from Cheswick Black Rocks in the north to Budle Bay in the south, covering 65km of coastline and 3,500 hectares. It includes dunes, sand and mud flats, saltmarsh, rocky shore and sea cliff, and is an internationally important site for birds.

From May until the beginning of August, wardens will be protecting nesting areas across the reserve – monitoring the birds and talking to members of the public.

Areas will be fenced off and access restricted in some areas over these months. People can help protect these special birds by respecting the fenced-off areas, keeping dogs on short leads on the reserve, and walking on the wet sand wherever possible.

Lead shorebird warden Katherine Dunsford says “I’m really looking forward to the coming season. We are hoping this year to build on the successful 2018 breeding season.

“A big factor in their breeding success last year was the refuge offered by the fenced-off areas, which gave them places to rest safely and rear their chicks without any disturbance.

“We understand the frustrations of not being able to access some areas of the coastline. However, these birds are in decline and need our help.

“The greatest threat to the breeding success of shorebirds is human and dog disturbance.”

Katherine explained: “The birds lay their eggs in hollows that they form in the sand, called scrapes. They are so well camouflaged that a stray foot or paw might easily wipe out the breeding success of a pair.”

Northumberland is a wonderful area both to live in and for tourism, with its long, sandy beaches being a particular draw. However, increased human and dog disturbance means that wardens are compelled to take additional steps to protect nesting shorebirds.