‘High hopes’ for Arctic terns dashed as lockdown and extreme weather hampers conservation work - National Trust

Arctic tern at Long Nanny standing on a branch (2019) ©National Trust Images Derek Hatton
Arctic tern at Long Nanny (2019) ©National Trust Images Derek Hatton

Arctic terns at one of the UK’s largest breeding sites have failed to fledge young for the first time since the species started breeding at the site in 1980, after lockdown restrictions and extreme weather hindered conservation efforts.

The Arctic tern, which has the longest migration of any bird in the world, returns annually from Antarctica to nest on the Long Nanny shorebird site in Northumberland. In recent years, it has been watched over 24 hours a day by a team of five rangers and seven volunteers. In 2019, over 400 chicks fledged the site.

Rangers had high hopes for the Arctic terns again this year after a high sand spit formed to the south of the estuary during winter, expected to provide defence against high tides.

But this year saw a breeding season fraught with adversities. Exceptionally high tides in June, exacerbated by strong onshore winds, washed away half of the nests.

Many of the remaining nests were preyed upon by rats and stoats as rangers were unable to provide their usual round-the-clock care due to travel restrictions imposed by the lockdown.

By the end of June, the remaining Arctic terns started to desert their nests at dusk. The Trust’s rangers believe this was caused by predators and disturbances from people walking through the colony, and a loose dog is thought to have been the final straw, seeming to cause the Arctic terns to desert the site entirely.

Countryside Manager, Gwen Potter said: “Lockdown made our conservation work with the terns so much more difficult this year, but the team did everything they could within the restrictions. It has been really sad to see our Arctic terns abandon the site, but we’re hopeful they’ll be back next year. They are an amazingly hardy species, with an epic migration, but as ground-nesting birds they’re also extremely vulnerable. It goes to show how important this conservation work is in protecting our declining species.”

Arctic tern at Long Nanny (2019) ©National Trust Images Derek Hatton

Posted on: 08 September 2020

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