Plovers in plight

The ringed plover is a small and dumpy wader which stands at only 18-20cm tall. It is almost comical in appearance and is easily identified by its black bib and face mask, as well as a short, black-tipped orange bill. When in flight, look out for a defined, white wing bar.

The ringed plover is renowned for its distinctive behaviour. When faced with a predator, the bird will feign a broken wing in an attempt to deflect the predator away from the nest, at which point a miraculous recovery sees the parent make its great escape. Look out also for foraging birds and you will witness a light-footed dance, mimicking the sound of raindrops over the sand and tricking unsuspecting prey to the surface.

Ringed plovers are resident in the UK and can be seen along the Northumberland coast all year round. In fact, ringed plover breed in many areas across northern Europe, as well as parts of Canada and Greenland. Our resident population are joined in the winter by European breeders, while in the autumn and spring you may glimpse a bird making the long migration between breeding grounds in Greenland or Norway, and their overwintering destinations in west and sub-Saharan Africa.  

Marking out the site
Blue sky across the raised shoreline on Lindisfarne
Marking out the site

Ringed plover have been nesting on Lindisfarne since the 1970’s, with the raised areas of shingle creating the ideal habitat for nest building. The delicate, speckled eggs sit in shallow scrapes and are perfectly camouflaged amoung the scattered pebbles and seaweed. The area of shingle surrounding the Limekilns is particularly well suited as the land sits above the spring high tide mark, meaning nests are protected from flooding.

Sadly, the number of ringed plover breeding on Lindisfarne has severely declined since the 1970’s. In 1977, 45 breeding pairs were recorded on the island, compared with just 15 pairs in 2017, representing a decline of 67%. This is a trend which has been experienced not only on Lindisfarne but across the country, leading to the ringed plover being placed on the Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) red list.

The population decline on Lindisfarne can be largely attributed to two factors; the sanding over of shingle and the increase in visitor numbers. This has led to loss of suitable habitat and higher levels of disturbance, especially in instances of dogs off leads. In an attempt to combat this, we will be roping off an area of shingle to the south east of the limekilns at Castle Point, providing a disturbance-free zone and allowing these characterful waders the best possible opportunity to breed successfully. The rope fencing will be erected at the beginning of May and will remain in place until mid August, as ringed plover have the capacity to raise up to two broods each season. It is also possible that if disturbance is kept to a minimum then other species such as oystercatcher may also be attracted to breed in the area.

Hopefully we'll see a few of these at Lindisfarne
Speckled ringed plover eggs are camouflaged in the sand
Hopefully we'll see a few of these at Lindisfarne

If you are planning a visit Lindisfarne this summer, please play your part by enjoying the site from a sensible distance and affording these wonderful birds the space they both need and deserve. I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Lindisfarne’s ringed plovers a very successful 2022!