Northumberland tourism boom posing threat to rare birds

“Rogue” paddle boarders, kayakers and drones are threatening one of the UK’s most protected wildlife sanctuaries.

Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 1:32 pm
Updated Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 1:51 pm
Rare birds on Coquet Island are under threat from “rogue” paddle boarders, kayakers and drones. Picture by Jane Coltman

Coquet Island, off the Northumberland coast at Amble, is supposed to be a haven for some of the country’s rarest birds.

But a busy summer for tourism in the region has led to fears about the impact the sudden influx to the region’s hot spots could have on wildlife.

“We’ve been trying to get the message out, but there’s still a rogue element which doesn’t respect the birds, so they need to know exactly what the consequences are,” said Dr Paul Morrison, site manager at Coquet Island, where he has worked for almost 40 years.

"Rogue" paddle boarders are posing a threat to rare birds on Coquet Island..

“If kayakers get too close and the birds start lifting off, that can kick off a chain reaction where all the birds lift off, pile out of their nests and panic.

“That can stop them settling properly, which is a risk to the nests and any chicks and reduce the effectiveness of the breeding population.”

Coquet Island is home to about 70,000 birds, including the UK’s only nesting colony of Roseate Terns, whose population has recovered from just 16 nesting pairs in the 1970s, to more than 100 in 2018.

The island is specially protected under law and manned by wardens 24 hours a day to prevent intrusion by the public – or egg thieves, which Dr Morrison deemed a “major threat” to the habitat, in addition to the challenges posed by tourists.

Largely, however, bosses at the site say that most visitors to the area respect the rules, with messages backed up by the likes of British Canoeing, which regularly reminds its members about the restrictions.

For those who ignore these, however, authorities have shown they will take action, such as in 2013, when two brothers were given electronic tags after pleading guilty to “recklessly disturbing nesting birds” on the island.

The issue was also raised at Northumberland County Council’s North Northumberland Local Area Council.

Les Robson, neighbourhood sergeant for Morpeth, told the panel: “Because of the craze at the moment for canoeists and paddle boarders and drones, there’s been issues with visitation to Coquet Island, which is a restricted area. I’ve been working with the warden to look at that and speaking to people involved in advising them of the restrictions.”