Farne Islands seabird population rising Northumberland breeding figures show

Numbers of breeding pairs of shags, kittiwakes, eider ducks, terns, and puffins on the rise on Northumberland coast

The Bridled Tern on the Farne Islands
The Bridled Tern on the Farne Islands

A seabird whose numbers suffered a winter wipeout has bounced back, this year’s Northumberland breeding figures have revealed.

The Shag population suffered heavy mortality during the winter of 2012-13 which halved the breeding population the following year on the Farne Islands.

But a study of this year’s breeding season on the islands shows that the Shag population has rallied, recording an increase of 37%, with 795 pairs compared to 582 last year.

The good summer weather and good food availability also boosted other bird species on the islands.

Kittiwakes registered a 21% increase with 4,175 pairs, up from 3,442; eider ducks were up 16% to 639 pairs from 552; sandwich terns also increased by 16% to 959 pairs from 824; Arctic terns rose by 15% to 2,212 pairs from 1,921; and guillemots were up 4% to a Farnes record of 51,883 individuals – an increase of 1,835.

Puffins, with 39, 962 pairs, also did well, with increases also recorded for herring gulls and cormorant, both up 7%.

The season included the first confirmed breeding of shoveler on the Farne Islands while Northumberland’s only breeding pair of red-breasted Mergansers nested again.

National Trust/Joe Cornish/PA Wire Puffins on the Farne Islands
Puffins on the Farne Islands

The success story was mirrored along many other east coast seabird colonies; halting the declines of recent years.

This was the case at the National Trust’s Long Nanny little tern breeding colony in Northumberland.

The Journal reported earlier this year how five wardens camped out from May until early August to protect the rare birds.

This year, 89 little tern chicks fledged along the Northumberland coast from the Long Nanny site near Beadnell and Natural England’s Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.

Little terns arrive in the UK from Africa each spring to nest on beaches and are very vulnerable to rising sea levels, predation and human disturbance.

The success of this year’s season was largely due to the dedicated seasonal rangers and volunteers who patrolled the beaches from Druridge Bay to Berwick.

Other shore birds have also benefitted from this work, with ringed plovers – a small wading bird - having a particularly productive season.

Natural England and the National Trust have been working to protect little terns in Northumberland for many years.

However, this year saw the launch of the Northumberland Little Tern Project, a five-year project funded by EU LIFE+, which has enabled the organisations to step up their work for these endangered seabirds.

A partnership between the National Trust, Nature England, the RSPB and the Northumberland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, the Northumberland Little Tern Project is providing funding for extra seasonal staff, as well as additional fencing to enclose established and potential nesting areas.

The Long Nanny tern site is also supported by the National Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign.

Other sites involved in the national Little Tern Recovery Project have also had a good season, including Crimdon Dene in County Durham, where 94 chicks successfully fledged.

Andrew Craggs, senior reserve manager for Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, said: “We’ve had a great year for all our shorebirds from terns to oystercatchers.

“Using experience we already had in abundance from years of managing for little terns we’ve been able to work together elsewhere on the coast. It’s an example of true partnership working.”

Kevin Redgrave, ranger for the National Trust, said: “It was a great season - good weather and few predators all made a difference. The brilliant team of rangers and volunteers we had this year also helped to give us the man power to protect little terns at Long Nanny.”

Mhairi Maclauchlan, EU LIFE+ Little Tern Project co-ordinator, said: “We have been excited to help enhance the great work already going on for little terns at places such as Long Nanny and Lindisfarne. It seems to be paying off.

“However, we are painfully aware of how easy a good year can be followed by a bad one as little terns are extremely vulnerable to disturbance and bad weather events.

“This is why we will be continuing to work hard to protect these birds over the next four years of the project and beyond.”

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