Northumberland wildlife spot celebrates little tern breeding boom

Little terns. Picture by K.Simmons
Little terns. Picture by K.Simmons

The UK’s second rarest shorebird has had a bumper breeding season at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, with 17 little tern juveniles joining the expanding population.

These small but mighty birds overcome great odds to breed, travelling from West Africa to Northumberland and back again each season.

Last season saw no little terns fledge from the reserve. But now, rangers at Natural England’s Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve are celebrating the fruitful breeding season, with the 17 young birds the only little tern fledglings between Aberdeen and Norfolk.

The rangers this year monitored five nesting sites for both little terns and ringed plovers.

Both species have seen declines in their breeding population in the UK in past years, with a major factor being human and dog disturbance.

Protections for the nests included erecting fences along a 100 metre stretch of beach, with rangers also educating visitors on the importance of protecting the charismatic little birds.

Annie Ivison, Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve manager, said: “Every year we begin our work with renewed hope, and this season we’ve seen real success.

“Happily, the efforts of reserve staff and volunteers, and the co-operation of walkers, have enabled these birds a small window of space and time to court, lay eggs, and rear chicks and fledglings.”

The little tern population will now begin its migration back to Africa, while the ringed plovers - who also had a successful breeding season, seeing more than 20 juveniles fledge with some chicks still on our shores - may move south or winter at the reserve.

Ranger Ceris Aston was on site for the breeding season and said: “The sites have seen some high drama – from fish-waggling courtship to love triangles, high- speed aerial battles, tempests, flooding, mortal peril - Shakespeare couldn’t write it better.

"It’s strange to be at the end of shorebird season. We empty sand from our pockets and our shoes and look forward to the next chapter of life on the reserve.”

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve – which covers 3,500 hectares – is host to a number of habitats including intertidal mudflats, rocky shores, sand dunes and saltmarsh. Natural England works to ensure that the birds and plants of the area continue to survive in harmony with each other and the people who live and visit here.