Seabirds on National Trust coastal places

We take a look at four of the key seadbird species found on National Trust land across England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

Sandwich tern

The report reveals that National Trust land is hugely important for Sandwich terns, with nationally significant colonies at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, Farne Islands, Cemlyn Lagoon, Green Island and Brownsea Island Lagoon.

Sandwich tern in flight at Blakeney Point in Norfolk

Sandwich tern in flight at Blakeney Point in Norfolk

Ajay Tegala, coastal ranger at Blakeney, said: “On Blakeney Point the breeding terns have been surveyed for over 100 years. Carrying out surveys as well as observing the colonies enables more to be learned about these birds and how we can help to protect them.”

Manx shearwater

Virtually all Manx shearwaters in the world breed in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. National Trust sites Lundy island, Middleholm in Pembrokeshire and Lighthouse Island, County Down all hold populations of this burrow nesting seabird.

A Manx Shearwater in flight

A Manx Shearwater in flight

Like other burrow nesting seabirds, Manx shearwaters are very vulnerable to predation by rats. When, in a partnership with RSPB and Landmark Trust, the National Trust removed the rats from Lundy Island, it led to a spectacular increase in numbers.

In Northern Ireland, the population of Manx shearwater on Lighthouse Island was recognised as being of global importance with just less than 1% of all Manx shearwater now breeding there.

Atlantic puffin

Despite increasing population numbers on the Farne Islands, which attract more than 52,000 visitors every year, the islands’ most famous residents, 40,000 pairs of puffins, also face a challenging future.

Wetter, windier summers can greatly impact their breeding success as was evident in 2012. Heavy flooding of the puffin burrows meant that one of the islands failed to produce any chicks, despite being home to 12,000 pairs of puffins.

The Atlantic puffin colony recovered and is now the second largest in the UK, with 10% of the total UK population breeding there.

David Steel, Lead Ranger on the Farne Islands, said: “I’ve travelled the length and breadth of Britain visiting many fabulous seabird reserves, but the intensity, close proximity and astonishing views of the seabirds on the Farne Islands make it one of the most remarkable wildlife experiences this country has to offer.

“With the inevitable changes to our coast, innovative thinking is needed such as considering new sites that can be made into suitable habitats.”

Arctic terns

Populations of Arctic tern on National Trust sites are of a national significant level in England.

An Artic tern after some successful hunting for food

An Artic tern after some successful hunting for food

The most southerly colony of Arctic terns is found on National Trust’s Blakeney Point in Norfolk.

Study reveals threats to UK breeding seabirds

UK breeding seabirds are under threat from a triple whammy of extreme weather, predators and human disturbance, a new National Trust report has revealed.

Puffins on the Farne Islands off of the Northumberland coast

Puffins on the Farne Islands off of the Northumberland coast

The study of seabird sites along the Trust’s 742 miles of coastline was carried out by the conservation organisation to evaluate the importance of National Trust locations for seabirds and to recognise the issues that impact breeding success.

Following the findings, the report calls for more regular monitoring to help detect any changes in seabird colonies, which can happen over a short period of time, and a greater awareness of human impact on breeding populations.

The most prevalent potential threat to seabirds was identified as the effect of extreme weather. This was evident in Blakeney in Norfolk this winter when the severe tidal surges changed the beach profile forcing more than half of the little terns to nest in low areas. The high tides that followed in mid-June caused the nests to flood, resulting in a very poor breeding season, with only 10 fledged young from 108 breeding pairs

Little terns at Long Nanny in Northumberland faced a similar threat. To help combat the problem, National Trust rangers spent three months between May and August providing a 24 hour watch on the nesting birds by camping next to their breeding site.

Predation from rats, foxes and mink was also identified as a problem at nearly all sites. The managed removal of predators is now a priority for the Trust and more regular monitoring will help to detect any issues early on.

In 2001 Manx shearwaters on Lundy Island, Devon were barely able to breed because of the threat from predators. A partnership project was established to remove them and by 2004, once the predators had been eradicated, the shearwaters have made a spectacular recovery.

Lundy has since been designated the first Marine Conservation Zone in England and hosts nationally significant numbers of Manx shearwater, with 1% of a total UK population of 295,045.

The third most common risk to breeding success was found to be human disturbance by walkers and their pets.

If nests are disturbed it can displace seabirds, leaving the young vulnerable to predators. However, even if they are not displaced, seabirds can become stressed when disturbed which can greatly impact their wellbeing.

The National Trust is encouraging walkers and visitors to the coast to be aware of the potential impact of disturbing nesting seabirds during the breeding season.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said: “Seabirds are part of what makes the British and Irish coastline so special.

“A seabird colony is an assault on your senses; it has a unique smell; distinctive calls, such as that of the Kittiwake, which sounds just like its name; and they are a fascinating sight as they lift off from the cliff.

“Our emotional connection with these birds along with what they tell us about the health of our seas means that it is vital for us to look after the places where they nest.”

Four bee-eater chicks take to the air

Four bee-eater chicks have fledged on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight thanks to aTwo juvenile bee-eaters, credit Andy Butler joint protection operation by the National Trust, the RSPB and Isle of Wight naturalists. It is the first time the birds, who usually nest in southern Europe, have bred successfully in the UK for 12 years.

Three of the chicks fledged last week and the fourth has tried out its wings in the last couple of days. If these survive, this will be the most successful ever bee-eater breeding attempt in the UK. The last successful attempt, which resulted in two chicks, was in county Durham in 2002, the first for 50 years.

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Dorset hillfort is the ideal home for nature

National Trust wildlife adviser Simon Ford tells us more about the rich wildlife that can be found at the newly acquired Hambledon Hill in Dorset:

“Hambledon Hill sits high above the River Stour in south-east Dorset. It has been cut from a steep chalk escarpment and the deep ramparts have provided the ideal environment for many species of plants and animals to thrive. They have also protected the wildlife from being lost to the plough. With 360 degrees of deeply incised banks, this has meant that whatever the weather, there is always some shelter from the elements.

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

The mix of species is very diverse, but includes characteristic chalk downland plants such as horseshoe vetch, harebell, common rockrose, squinancywort, salad burnet, common milkwort, small scabious, wild thyme and stemless thistle. Early purple, bee, pyramidal, common spotted and autumn lady’s tresses orchids have been recorded as well as notable species such as felwort, dwarf sedge, early gentian, bastard toadflax and meadow saxifrage.

Twenty-eight species of butterfly have been recorded including Adonis Blue, Chalk-Hill Blue, Brown Argus, Dark Green Fritillary, Grizzled and Dingy skipper, and Green Hairstreak. Glow worms are frequently recorded and there are records of white legged damselfly.

Brown hares are commonly seen and the grassland has a good population of skylarks, buzzards, kestrels and meadow pipits, while the scrub attracts blackcaps, white-throats, chiff chaffs and willow warblers.

The site is so important that it has not only been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest but also a National Nature Reserve.

To ensure the site continues to be of top nature conservation value, the priority will be to maintain the correct grazing and to stop scrub from dominating the steep hillside.”

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Rare bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land on Isle of Wight

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A pair of colourful and rare bee-eaters that have set up home on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight have become only the third record of this European bird to breed successfully in the UK in the last century.

Bee-eaters, which would normally be found nesting in southern Europe, were last recorded breeding in the UK in 2002, when a pair nested in a quarry in County Durham and two young successfully fledged. Before that, two pairs were recorded raising seven young in a Sussex sand-pit in 1955.

Bee-eaters, with their kaleidoscopic plumage, are one of the most beautiful birds in Europe.

The bee-eaters, which were discovered on the Island in mid-July, have set up home in the sandy hills of the Wydcombe Estate on the south of the Island in a small valley where the soft ground, rolling landscape and stream access provides ideal conditions for their nest burrow. The burrow could be up to three metres long.

Ian Ridett, National Trust Isle of Wight Ranger, said: “We have set up a 24-hour surveillance operation around the site to protect these rare visitors, as any unhatched eggs could be a potential target for egg thieves.

“We have had incredible support from the RSPB, Isle of Wight Ornithological Group and our volunteers and staff, some of whom have travelled from the mainland to help.

“The hot temperatures since spring have helped an above average arrival of bee-eaters, with more than ten seen along the south coast since May. With rising temperatures, the varied landscape and bountiful supply of insects on the Wydcombe Estate was obviously enough to tempt the bee-eaters to nest here.”

The adult birds have been spotted delivering food into the nest which indicates that the eggs have hatched. The chicks will not leave their underground nest site for another fortnight or so, so the number of chicks hatched is still not known. Bee-eaters traditionally lay clutches of four to nine eggs, and the first chick sighting is eagerly anticipated.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature and wildlife expert, said: “The bee-eater is arguably the most stunning bird on the British list; it looks tropical.

“It’s really exciting to have these bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land, and we are pulling out all the stops to help the chicks safely fledge, whilst keeping the public up-to-date with their progress. As our climate changes it’s likely that we’ll see increasing numbers of new visitors on our shores.”

Keith Ballard, the site manager at the RSPB’s Brading Marshes reserve on the Isle of Wight, said: “It’s the stuff of dreams to have a rare nesting event like this on the Isle of Wight; and it’s looking like the initiative by the National Trust rangers to make the nest site safe is going to lead to success for these birds.

“There was a very real threat that these nesting birds could have been targeted by egg thieves, so it’s been quite a nervous period over the last 12 days. It has been a pleasure for the RSPB staff and volunteers to help with this operation.”

Further information on the Wydcombe bee-eaters can be found on Ian Ridett’s blog or by calling the estate office on 01983 741020.

A designated public viewing point has been identified overlooking the birds’ favourite feeding area so that visitors can get the best possible sightings of the exotic looking creatures. This will be carefully managed though, as the birds’ wellbeing and welfare takes priority.