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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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.

Taking a holistic approach to food production

Today see’s the publication of a major new report on food and farming in the UK, called ‘Square Meal’, by ten organisations, including the National Trust. Rural Enterprises Director at the Trust, Patrick Begg (http://twitter.com/NT_Pat), takes a look at the focus of the report and the challenges ahead.

“The last week has been one of soaring highs and depressing lows.

First, was the most inspiring of visits to Knepp Castle Estate near Horsham in West Sussex, where Charlie Burrell has been re-inventing a thriving, lowland estate. His 2,000 acres has gone, in just over a decade, from a scoured, arable/dairy financial black hole, to a landscape dripping with natural health and economic possibilities.

This was followed by the House of Commons debate on implementing the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in the UK. It was a dispiriting and familiar trip around the threats to agriculture from administrative burdens and regulatory hurdles to the reinforcement of apparent entitlements to cash. These are issues, of course, and they do need to be dealt with.

But there’s a need for a much bigger debate and for thinking that breaks free from the bureaucratic and self-interested doldrums. We need to look beyond CAP and to address the constraints that farming’s dependency on it has created.

So we’ve been delighted to come together with a range of organisations to kick start the debate. The ‘Square Meal’ report , published today, sets out the scale of the challenges around food, nature, environmental protection, farming livelihoods, diet and health and challenges the political parties to rise to these in framing their manifestos for the forthcoming election.

There are a range of specific policy responses which we believe are critical to future progress. These include: ensuring public procurement leads in the purchasing of sustainably produced food; stopping using ‘production efficiency’ as the key metric for success; and making a much more effective and concrete response to the call for ‘bigger, better, more joined up’ habitats which Prof John Lawton enshrined in his vital report on the future of nature.

We’re also asking for much more leadership from Government. Without this, it’s hard to see how the big leaps we need can be made. We want a long term vision in place that blends the farming, food, environmental and social sectors much more coherently and we need Government to address market failures and to reward those delivering public benefit complemented by a properly embedded ‘polluter pays’ principle. We hope the ‘Square Meal’ report will kick-start this conversation.”

National Trust joins State of Nature family

Back in May 2013 a seminal report was published by twenty-five of the leading nature organisations in the UK charting the decline of species across the UK in recent decades.

The High Peak Moors project is all about creating a better long term future for the natural world

The High Peak Moors project is all about creating a better long term future for the natural world

The National Trust has now joined this family as it seeks to celebrate the beauty of the natural world and work with partner organisations to reverse and slow down the rates of species decline.

National Trust Head of Nature Conservation Dr David Bullock is on the State of Nature steering group and other Trust staff from the wildlife and countryside adviser’s community will be involved.

According to the report, the State of Nature, 60 per cent of species have declined in recent decades and one in ten species are at risk of disappearing all together from these islands.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said: “The State of Nature report was a wake-up call to us all – about the fragility of nature and about the role of people in protecting the special places that nature calls home.

“We will bring our rich experience as major landowners and as naturalists to the table; working in partnership with other leading wildlife organisations.

“This coalition is a really important movement for the future of nature in the UK – a chance to think big and bold about how we secure the future of our species and habitats for future generations to enjoy.”
Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland the Trust cares for 250,000 hectares of land (the same size as Derbyshire) and 742 miles (1300km) of coastline. Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, one of the first places acquired by the Trust in 1899, has an amazing 8,500 species and the Farne Islands off of the Northumberland coast is England’s largest seabird colony.

The Trust is working to look at how we manage land (uplands, lowland areas and the coast) as we grapple with the huge challenges of climate change. We’re thinking big about the challenges of managing large land holdings such as the High Peak Moors in Derbyshire, working with the Woodland Trust to restore ancient woodland at Fingle Woods in Devon and are planning species introductions and re-introductions in Surrey.

David Bullock, concludes: “At the heart of everything that the Trust does is connecting people and places. There is a real passion and interest in the natural world in the UK and the State of Nature coalition can play an important role in connecting and reconnecting people to the wildlife where-ever they live.”

You can follow the fortunes of wildlife at National Trust places by following the hashtag #NTnature on twitter or visiting: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nature

Weather and wildlife – a review of the year so far

 

Matthew Oates, Nature and Wildlife expert for the National Trust, reflects on the weather so far this year and looks at how it has affected our wildlife.

“This winter was one of the stormiest on record and the wettest since 1766. Despite this, it was also the mildest winter in more than 100 years

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National Trust launches coastal appeal in bid to buy Bantham beach and Avon estuary

A view from the coast of the golden sands at Bantham beach, popular with families and walkers

A view from the coast of the golden sands at Bantham beach, popular with families and walkers

A multi-million pound fundraising appeal is being launched today by the National Trust in a bid to raise money to acquire Bantham beach and the Avon estuary in south Devon.

One of the finest estuaries in South West England and the best surfing beach in south Devon, this coastline is a place that has captured the hearts and minds of generations of holiday-makers and local people.

If the appeal is successful the Trust would maintain the high-quality access enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people every year and would work hard to further enhance the landscape along the estuary as a home for nature.

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