Friday, 26 September 2014

26th September: Sheep arrive

Part of the Snook is now home to a flock of 22 sheep for the winter. The sheep are here to act as living 'grasscutters', opening up the vegetation to allow Lindisfarne's amazing summer flora to thrive and most importantly, to keep invasive species such as Michaelmas daisy in check.

Sheep arriving

Michaelmas daisy

The sheep have only been in-situ for a few days but have already made a big impact on the vegetation, especially the Michaelmas daisy - all of the pale purple flowerheads were gone from the enclosure by the next day!

The sheep enclosure before the flock arrives....
...and a few days after. Big difference!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

23rd September: Geese incoming!

Winter wildfowl have started arriving in droves - approx. 3500 geese have arrived over the last few days, including a passage of 2500 Pink-footed geese and a peak of 200 Greylags noted at Budle Bay.

Barnacle geese have been especially numerous around the Reserve recently. Around 7000 were seen loafing on the mudflats north of the Causeway earlier this week, taking off as the tide came in and flying south to Budle Bay and adjacent fields.

Barnacle geese dropping in (John Dunn)

These Barnacle geese are probably on their way over to the Solway, stopping off here to have a good feed and rest.

A star attraction of the Reserve, the Light-bellied Brent goose, is also showing well with numbers currently at around 1200. The hide at Fenham-Le-Moor, signposted off the A1, is the best place to see and hear these charismatic small geese.

Light-bellied Brent geese (John Dunn)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

16th September: Special blog from Millie, high school placement student

I’m Millie, a year 13 student who has just finished a work placement here at Lindisfarne NNR.

MONDAY: After arriving in the morning and registering as a volunteer, I was straight over to the Island with Reserve Warden Laura. We went down onto the beach at the Snook armed with black bin bags and a litter picker. I was surprised at the amount of rubbish that the recent, really high tide had washed up but we managed to clean all along the stretch of beach, leaving it litter free.

Litter-free, but we found many small crab shells

After lunch it was then time to visit the Window to Wild Lindisfarne building to refresh the box of leaflets about the Reserve and check it was clean and tidy for the public. We then proceeded to do the same for the Lookout to Wild Lindisfarne, not without admiring the view!

TUESDAY: the day started with another round of cleaning up after the high tide litter, but this time along the causeway.

It was then time to complete the weekly butterfly survey that runs throughout the summer. It was a very sunny day so we were hopeful to see a few, despite it being a little windy! Sadly, we were only able to see three different species and a grand total of six butterflies. This was due to it being late in the season, meaning many had died off, including the Reserve's “star” butterfly: the dark green fritillary.

Dark green fritillary

Back at the office, I was able to look at the data collection sheets from the most recent Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and process some of the data in a spreadsheet. It was interesting to see the variation of a species over the years.

WEDNESDAY: after briefly helping with the BBS spreadsheets again and making some graphs, we were back out the office to another part of the reserve at Cheswick beach. The NNR site was larger than I realised! Here, Laura and I carried out a Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), counting the number of each species with a telescope and recording it. Aside from the numerous herring gulls and cormorants, we saw some eider ducks, terns and a group of at least five porpoises just offshore!

The Reserve at Cheswick, where we started the WeBS

THURSDAY: on my last day, it was time to help remove some of the many Scots pine saplings that were sprouting up in the dunes. These trees would change the valuable sand dune ecosystem that is home to important species on the Reserve, so we pulled them up at the root where possible.

Scots pine sapling before removal

On another part of the island there is a freshwater pond, the Lough, with a hide looking out onto it. We walked there and gave the hide a quick check and clean. We had to be quick as inside there was one nest of swallows still not fledged and the parent birds wanted to come in and feed them.

Massive thank you to the whole team at the Lindisfarne NNR and Natural England for letting me have such a fantastic week of work experience. It gave me an insight into conservation work in this country and parts of the job that I had not even considered. I hope to volunteer with them again in the future!

- And from us at Lindisfarne NNR, many thanks to Millie for doing a great job helping the Reserve team throughout the week, best of luck in Year 13 and future studies!

Monday, 15 September 2014

15th September: Happy 50th Birthday Lindisfarne NNR!

Today marks a very special day for Lindisfarne - on this day in 1964 the Reserve was first designated, formal recognition of the importance of this special area.

The impetus for the commencement of declaration of the site as an NNR was to manage the wildfowling activity.

Over the coming year we will be hosting a series of special events, taking place on the Reserve, to further mark this special occasion: "Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve's 50th Year". Watch this space!

How the causeway looked decades ago (date unknown,  c. late 1960s to 1970s)

Andrew Craggs, Senior Reserve Manager, said: "On the occasion of the NNR's Golden Jubilee we would like to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers, local people and our many partners at Lindisfarne, for all their practical help, support and hard work in helping us manage the special features of the NNR over the past 50 years.

We are heading towards a busy time of year. Six internationally important species of wildfowl and wading birds overwinter here. Light-bellied Brent geese, barnacle geese and pink-footed geese are joined by wigeon, grey plovers and bar-tailed godwits as the other VIPs at this coastal 'hotel', where all their favourite food is laid on!

Natural England, with the continued support of its partners, works hard to manage the special features of the NNR for people to enjoy and experience all year round. Roll on the next 50 years!"

We thought it would be fitting today to show off beautiful photographs, all taken by staff and volunteers, of the special wildlife and habitats that are protected by the NNR's designations.

Mass flight of Wigeon

Barnacle geese dropping in for the winter, with Wigeon in the background

Male eider


Little egret

Juvenile peregrine

Grey heron

Purple sandpiper

Light-bellied Brent

North Shore with cattle in foreground

Mud casts on the invertebrate-rich mudflats

Cattle grazing on the Reserve last year, they are due to come on again in the next few weeks.

Whoopers at dawn 

Light-bellied Brent geese with the flats and mainland in the background

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

10th September: Speckled wood sightings

It's coming to the end of the butterfly season and with flight periods of many butterflies over now, there are only two weeks left of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) weekly surveys which runs from April - September.

The Speckled Wood butterfly, previously a rare sight in Northumberland, has been spotted at Beal and near Bamburgh recently. This butterfly is one species that is expanding it's range northwards in England and, while commonly associated with woodland (hence the name), it can be spotted near hedgerows and gardens - maybe it will become a more common sight near Lindisfarne NNR in years to come?

Speckled wood (Natural England/Allan Drewitt)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

4th September: Little Tern project update from Mhairi

Shore enough, it's been a great year for our shorebirds!

I promised an update from the project and here it is – there’s great news. Little Terns have had a record breaking season this year on the Northumberland coast, the continued efforts from us here at Natural England at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve have certainly helped their success. As we’ve been letting you know throughout the season there has been a funding injection this year from EU Life which enabled organisations all along the coast to step up their important work protecting and encoraging these endangered seabirds.

Adult Little Tern (C. Redgate)

The two main colonies on the Northumberland Coast at Linsdisfarne NNR and Long Nanny, Beadnell Bay, had an exceptional year with just under 90 Little Tern chicks, the U.K’S second rarest seabird, leaving the site to start their long journey south for winter. Wardens at Lindisfarne NNR recorded the most successful year for breeding Little Terns for 20 years.

Success this year was in no doubt greatly helped by the dedication of a hardy band of seasonal rangers and volunteers braving the elements and patrolling the beaches from Druridge Bay to Berwick. The great weather this summer was not only good for BBQ’s and world cup parties - it gave a much needed helping hand to our breeding shore birds giving them the warmth and shelter needed to raise their chicks successfully. 

A big part of protecting shore birds is getting everything in place before the season starts. You may not realise it but wardens have to put up over 1000m of temporary fencing in a short period of time during April and May. Too early and the fences can be damaged by the weather or vandalised, too late and the birds may already be disturbed and moved elsewhere. It’s a big undertaking particularly when some of these places are very remote.

The key word there is temporary and come the end of the season when birds have done their thing and left, the fences have to be brought in. Unfortunately this year high tides battered some of our fencing and created a tangle of nets in such a mess only the hardiest of souls dared to tackle them. Our volunteers spent a good morning untangling the mess – big thanks, it saved a lot of tears and swearing! Tides are a big problem for the Little Tern on another site working with the Little Tern project they pick the birds up on a high tide and shelter them in the wardens hut until it subsides giving them the best chance to survive.

Dedicated volunteers keep a watchful eye on the site

We mustn't forget the valuable work volunteers have been doing all along the coast. They have been out in sunshine and rain, all hours of the day keeping a watchful eye over this vulnerable sea bird – a big thank you goes out to them!

This seems to be a similar story at other sites throughout the UK such as our neighbours down at Crimdon Dene in Durham who also had a great season with a terntastic 94 chicks leaving the nest. Not forgetting other shore birds on the coast that have been benefiting from the increased wardening and fenced of areas free from disturbance. Ringed plovers, a small shore bird known for its distinctive call have increased in number due to the work of the project.

A big thank you to our beach users...we couldn't have done it without you, however continue to look out for signage and keep checking the blog. We’ll be raring to go next season with updates and information.

One of this year's signs at Lindisfarne

Sunday, 31 August 2014

31st August: Fire of the North 2014

With only one more event to go in the Fire of the North Festival 2014, it is going well so far with two fantastic walks already gone and the big event - the lighting of the beacons on Inner Farne, Farne Islands NNR and at St Abb's Head NNR - still to come.

The St Cuthbert Walk on Sunday 31st August was enjoyed very much by all the people who attended. Warm sunny weather was also very welcome! John Woodhurst tells the story of Cuthbert, the 'Fire of the North' and Northumberland's first nature warden, with amazing enthusiasm, emphasising the links between Cuthbert and the stunning nature of the three NNRs in the area.

A few photos from John's walk:

Monday, 25 August 2014

25th August: Fire of the North Festival 2014

The Fire of the North Festival 2014 is well underway, but don't worry - you can still join in with the events still to come!

Tomorrow, 28th August, John will be greeting visitors to the Farne Islands NNR as they land to tell them more about the amazing St Cuthbert and his care for the wildlife of the Islands. On Sunday 31st August, John and Reserve Warden Laura will be leading a walk around Holy Island titled "Cuthbert: Lindisfarne's First Nature Warden".

Detail of St Cuthbert in the Transfiguration window, Durham Cathedral (Thomas Denney)

For a full programme, please visit

On Thursday 4th September at 8.30pm, the festival comes to a spectacular end with beacons being lit on Inner Farne and at St Abb's Head NNR. A walk will be led to the Lookout on Wild Lindisfarne on Holy Island to view these beacons. It was amazing last year and this year will be even bigger and better than before!