Booming population of migrating birds on Northumberland coast

An Arctic Tern in flight. Picture by National Trust
An Arctic Tern in flight. Picture by National Trust

A tiny bird is booming in population thanks to conservation efforts on a stretch of the north Northumberland coast recently bought by the National Trust.

More than 500 Arctic terns and five internationally-threatened little terns have fledged thanks to rangers camping out on 24-hour watch against predators, such as stoats and foxes. In the previous year, just two Arctic terns and five little terns, vulnerable to high tides and marine pollution, managed to take flight.

The National Trust has been carrying out the extensive conservation efforts for decades to keep the birds going on the north Northumberland coast, but this summer, the charity acquired 200 acres of land at Tughall Mill for £1.5million to ensure its vital conservation work can continue.

Only around 1,800 breeding pairs of Arctic terns return to the Long Nanny from Antarctica each year, between May and July. The Arctic tern hit headlines last year after one from the Farne Islands clocked up 59,650 miles in one migration, more than twice the circumference of the planet.

Tughall Mill has important wildlife habitats including saltmarsh, woodland, hedgerows, pasture and sand dunes. Many of the habitats being created and enhanced are priority habitats, identified as requiring special protection. As custodians of this special place, the conservation charity is working to enhance the land’s mosaic of habitats, ensuring nature and wildlife can thrive, for the benefit of future generations. The land was acquired through the Trust’s Neptune campaign which, for more than 50 years, has enabled the conservation charity to care for Britain’s coastline.

Simon Lee, general manager of National Trust Northumberland Coast, said: "As an independent conservation charity, we are passionate about looking after special places for the benefit of people, wildlife and nature. Our investment in Tughall Mill offers a truly unique opportunity to do this.

"We already care for 12 miles of the Northumberland Coast and our team has considerable expertise in managing the land surrounding Tughall Mill. Now we will be able to take a more joined-up approach and look after the wider landscape helping wildlife and nature flourish, as well as safeguarding the site for future generations."

In caring for the land, the Trust will link up hedgerows to create wildlife corridors as well as improve woodland areas through the removal of non-native invasive species. The ranger team will also plant native woodland and hedgerow trees, and through careful grazing management, encourage native plant species found in the dunes and grasslands, including rare calcareous plants such as purple milk vetch and autumn gentian. This work will also allow the shorebird colonies, farmland birds and declining waders such as curlew, lapwing and ringed plover to flourish.

David Feige, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) officer for the Northumberland Coast, added: "The site at Tughall Mill is a very significant part of the Northumberland Coast AONB, especially as it hosts such an important colony of little and Arctic terns, and fantastic dune grassland. It also has great potential to support a wide range of other declining wildlife, and so the AONB Partnership is delighted that the National Trust has been able to buy this site and we look forward to seeing it flourish in the Trust's care."

Dune systems like those at Tughall Mill are one of 50 priority nature habitats hand-picked by the Government as needing support. The National Trust plans to create 25,000 hectares of these habitats by 2025 to help reverse the decline in wildlife and restore natural heritage on all the land in its care. For more information about Tughall Mill, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/northeast