Northumberland pottery little terns tempt birds to safety

Ceramics expert turns out models to help migrating birds find their way to a safe haven on the Northumberland coast

Potter Ian Kille's ceramic little terns
Potter Ian Kille's ceramic little terns

Potter Dr Ian Kille has come up with a cute line in kidology for birds homing in on Northumberland at the end of the migratory flight from Africa.

Little terns, which are in decline with less than 2,000 breeding pairs in the UK, nest on beaches and inlets which are often vulnerable to tidal flooding, predation and disturbance.

In Northumberland the main nesting sites are at Lindisfarne and Long Nanny near Beadnell, which are part of 20 locations nationally that are part of the Little Tern Recovery project to safeguard the birds.

Ian has produced ceramic batches of the birds at his Northumbrian Fire pottery at Westnewton, near Wooler.

He glaze paints the models to look like little terns and they are placed on suitable nesting areas to hopefully persuade incoming birds that it is a desirable site on which to settle.

So far Ian has provided 20 pottery birds for Lindisfarne and 20 for Long Nanny, with another 10 going to the RSPB reserve of Coquet Island off Amble.

He said: “Little terns are communal nesters and if they see what they think are birds already on a site they will hopefully think that is a safe place to be.”

Cullernose Point in Northumberland
Cullernose Point in Northumberland

The birds are a change from Ian’s usual output of stoneware pottery, such as dishes and mugs.

“I really got to know the birds from studying them for the models and I’ve hugely enjoyed the job,” said Ian, who also made two birds as a wedding gift for a couple who are both involved in conservation.

He has also turned out Arctic terns to tempt the real birds to use a nesting platform at North Shields marina.

Ian studied geology at Oxford University and Imperial College in London, and also runs Northumbrian Earth, which lays on walks and talks on the geology of Northumberland.

Last year he gave up the Northumbrian House five-star bed and breakfast business in Berwick which he ran for eight years with partner Diana Harris, and which had a Green tourism gold award, to concentrate on the geology and pottery activities.

On Sunday, Ian will be leading a two-hour coastal geology walk from Craster to Cullernose Point, exploring the Whin Sill, which underpins Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Lindisfarne castles.

The village of Samdo in Nepal, pictured by Ian Kille
The village of Samdo in Nepal, pictured by Ian Kille

Donations from participants on the walk, which leaves Craster Quarry car park at 2pm, will go to the Nepal Earthquake Appeal.

Ian spent six weeks on the Manaslu trek trail in Nepal, and is anxious to help the appeal.

He said: “The Nepalese are hardy people who often have to struggle against appalling circumstances but they have an amazing spirit and made me very welcome.

“I have the greatest of respect for them.

“I have been fortunate to travel to Nepal exploring the Kathmandu Valley and trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area and around Manaslu.

“The Nepali people impressed me by their easy going friendliness despite the chaos of the political system and the poverty of the country.

“While there I made good friends including one family working in Pokhara but from the village of Lamjung, which is right at the epicentre of the earthquake.

Porters on the Mansulu trail in Nepal
Porters on the Mansulu trail in Nepal

“Mercifully Nabraj and his family are safe and well, but the village has been utterly destroyed.

“This small personal story is multiplied a thousand fold across Nepal and I would like to do what I can to help and giving up my income from this walk is a small start.”

On his trek Ian recorded villagers moving roof slates having relocated their village not long before a landslide wiped out the site - an example of how geologically unstable a region Nepal is even without a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

He also visited the village of Samdo which took 10 days trekking to reach at about 4000m - villages like this are reported to have had 75% plus of their houses destroyed.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer