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Our work at Embleton and Newton Links

An Arctic tern perching on a branch at the Long Nanny shorebird nesting site in Northumberland
An Arctic tern at the Long Nanny nesting site | © National Trust Images/Derek Hatton

Learn about some of the work that National Trust staff and volunteers carry out throughout the year to keep Embleton and Newton Links pristine and safe for visitors and wildlife alike.

Tree planting project

St Cuthbert's Cave

We are thrilled to have begun our tree planting project at St Cuthbert's Cave, repairing the damage caused by Storm Arwen.

We have partnered with the Great Northumberland Forest Project at Northumberland County Council and the Woodland Trust to secure funding and appropriate trees suitable for the location. We plan to re-plant with mixed native species- both coniferous and deciduous to promote a more biodiverse environment for wildlife and our visitors for years to come.

The woodland will be less of a " block" plantation than it was previously, as we are planting shrubby trees to create a canopy that is of differing heights. This will help to create a woodland that is more resilient to future storms. Species include fruiting trees such as Rowan, Holly, Crab Apple and Hawthorn and other trees such as Scots Pine, Wych Elm, Willow, Cherry, Dog Rose and Birch.

We have made a conscious decision not to plant Ash, Oak or Beech in order to minimise habitat for grey squirrels as the site is next door to Kyloe woods, which is an important Red Squirrel Protection Zone. As part of the project we're trialling the use of soil biodegradable tree shelters (made from wood pulp rather than traditional plastic) to protect our newly planted trees from nibbling herbivores, in an environmentally - friendly way.

But perhaps THE most exciting bit - we have been offered some cuttings of Black Poplar from Durham University and we are overjoyed to be planting these here to help preserve such a rare and important native species.

Thank you to our brilliant volunteers for helping us to get these trees into the ground.

Protecting the Long Nanny shorebird site

The Long Nanny shorebird site is located between the villages of Beadnell and Low Newton. It is a nationally important breeding site and 2023 marks 46 years since the National Trust began working to protect the site and the birds that breed there.

Each year we rope off a section of the coast between Beadnell and High Newton to protect the nesting grounds of several important breeding birds, including the Arctic tern, little tern and ringed plover. Rangers are stationed along this stretch of coastline during the nesting season to monitor the birds.

How the ropes help

When the birds are left undisturbed on the beach, it maximises the chances of a successful breeding year with as many fledglings as possible. This helps towards ensuring the survival of the threatened species that call this estuary home.

We make sure that visitors can still enjoy their walk along this beautiful stretch of coastline, while watching these beautiful birds from a safe distance.

End of season update - September 2023

Written by James Porteus, Area Ranger.

Another breeding season has now been and gone. Six seasonal rangers began camping in the dunes in early May and moved off site on 31 July and, as ever, the team has worked extremely hard throughout the breeding season to protect and monitor the birds and have been supported by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Unfortunately, an outbreak of Avian Influenza (bird flu) has cast a shadow over what promised to be a very successful season. Arctic terns (which are the most numerous species that breed at Long Nanny) arrived in their highest numbers since the 2018 season, with 1610 nests containing 2638 eggs counted by rangers during the full colony nest count on 6 June. The Long Nanny is the largest mainland breeding colony of Arctic terns in Britain, and it was wonderful to see the birds back in such high numbers again this year, providing an awesome wildlife spectacle.

On 26 June rangers noticed a high concentration of dead chicks within the Arctic tern colony. On closer inspection 54 dead chicks were counted and removed, with none showing any signs of injury or predation. Over the course of the next month, a total of 1066 Arctic tern chicks and 263 adults were collected. A sample of birds were sent off for testing and the majority returned a positive result in relation to HP H5N1 (bird 'flu).

The high mortality of Arctic terns is, of course, worrying. Our seabirds face so many threats including habitat loss, recreational disturbance and climate change, and diseases such as Avian Influenza are putting additional strain on already fragile populations. It is likely that the number of adult Arctic terns which died this season is substantially higher than the number collected by rangers, with many birds presumed to have perished at sea or at other locations along our coastline. Arctic terns are long-lived birds, in some cases living up to 30 years old. They also have the lowest productivity of any seabird species breeding in the UK, with a breeding pair fledging on average only 1 chick every 3 years. Therefore, any reduction in breeding adults, or maturing young birds can have a very significant impact on entire populations.

Despite all of this, a good number of Arctic tern chicks still managed to fledge this year. 1066 chicks were known to die of disease and another couple of hundred chicks were likely lost to predation, with kestrel and weasel both active throughout the second half of the season. But this still leaves over 1000 chicks unaccounted for (assuming ~2600 chicks hatched). The peak count of Arctic tern fledglings was 300, giving us a minimum figure for the number of Arctic tern chicks fledged this season, although it possible that the actual number was considerably higher.

Little terns were also impacted by Avian Influenza this season. 37 breeding pairs made a single nesting attempt each, laying a total of 87 eggs and fledging a minimum of 21 chicks. 10 adult little tern carcasses were collected by rangers (13.5% of the breeding population), with none of these birds showing any signs of injury. 20 little tern chicks were also discovered dead and collected, although it is believed that 15 out of the 20 chicks collected by rangers died as a result of drowning during spring tides at the beginning of July. The high tide on the morning of 4July was exacerbated by a 4ft swell and completely inundated the little tern nesting area. It is likely that more chicks were swept away and were not able to be recovered. The remaining 5 little tern chicks collected by rangers were discovered after the high tides had passed and it is believed that the most likely cause of death for these birds was Avian Influenza, with samples from one of the chicks returning a positive test result for HP H5N1.

On 24 June, rangers counted 45 little tern chicks and 21 unhatched eggs, leaving 21 eggs/chicks unaccounted for (given that a total of 87 eggs were laid). No predation of little terns was recorded this season and, given that little tern chicks are notoriously well camouflaged and the availability of hiding places, it is likely that there were a further 21 chicks on 24 June that were hidden from view. From 26 June onwards, rangers were forced to monitor remotely because of the arrival of Avian Influenza, making it very difficult to reliably count the total number of chicks. While the maximum number of fledglings counted at once was 21, it is again possible that the true number of fledglings was in fact higher than this.

Ringed plover had a successful nesting season. 18 pairs made 19 nesting attempts, laying a total of 74 eggs. Ringed plover are possibly the hardest species to monitor given that chicks are highly mobile very shortly after hatching. There was some predation of nests at egg stage by crows, but a minimum of 37 chicks hatched, and at least 20 of those chicks made it to fledging age. This is the highest number of ringed plover fledglings recorded at the Long Nanny in a decade.

Thank you to everyone who came to visit the site this season. We look forward to seeing what 2024 brings, and hope that the impact of Avian Influenza this season is not felt too acutely next year.

Arctic terns

After a very positive start to the breeding season, which saw the highest number of Arctic terns at the site since 2018 ( 1600 pairs) , and rangers counting 2600 eggs, over the last couple of weeks the team have seen a devastating number of chicks dying.

Over 600 Arctic tern chicks have been collected so far, which is approximately a quarter of this years young. The rangers are also now starting to see some dead adult birds, which is equally distressing.

After the devastating impact of Avian Influenza on the Farne Islands last year, where rangers collected over 6000 dead birds, bird 'flu is the suspected cause of what the team are seeing and they are are awaiting test results from DEFRA to confirm whether or not this is the cause of these deaths.

Little terns

The little terns have had a very positive start to the season, with 32 pairs on eggs counted in June.

So far, the team have recovered 1 dead little tern and observed 1 poorly chick. As they nest quite far away from the Arctic terns, the hope is that these very rare seabirds will be unaffected. The site is nationally significant for these birds - there are only 1450 breeding pairs in the UK, and 2% of these are at Long Nanny.

How can visitors help?

The rangers have suspended any activity which may cause disturbance, such as clutch counts and raising nests above the tide - jobs that they would usually do to help the birds.

Visitors can help by avoiding causing disturbance to any of the birds at Long Nanny by keeping a safe distance from the colony and keeping dogs on a short lead at all times. Footbaths are located at the entrance and exit to the site to help minimise any potential spread of the disease.

Visitors are advised not to touch any dead or visibly sick birds and to report it to the DEFRA helpline on 03459 335577.

May 2023

How many birds have arrived?

Around 1000 birds were at the site during an initial count last week, which included very good numbers of Arctic terns, and there were also 15-20 little terns flying over the beach and fishing just offshore. The sight and sound of these birds returning is always a welcome one.

Last year saw the most successful breeding season ever here for little terns, and the rangers are hopeful that the number present will increase slightly and that the birds will start to show nesting behaviour soon.

The team will also be monitoring Ringed Plover, and this species is well on the way with breeding; 6 pairs are currently sitting on eggs.

Conservation and monitoring work

The dedicated team of National Trust rangers will now spend the next 3 months camping in tents on site to protect these very special birds around the clock.

They will also be carrying out vital conservation and monitoring work, including watching to see if the " brash islands" created to increase nesting habitat are successful.

Visit

Visitors are welcome to walk along the beach to see the colony and to find out more from the rangers; To help us to protect the birds please keep dogs on a short lead and follow all local signage and diversions.

We will be sharing regular updates here, and also via our social media channels.

key facts

The UK breeding population of little terns is 1450 pairs

Vulnerable nesting sites, combined with it's decline in numbers make this bird an Amber List species. It is also listed as a Schedule 1 species, which means that it is an offence to harm or disturb it.

Courtship begins with a fishy offering

Look out for an aerial display, during which the male will call, whilst carrying a fish, to attract a mate.

Arctic terns have the longest migration of any species

These "swallows of the sea" annually make the journey from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic Circle.

Tern fledglings at Long Nanny
Little terns at Long Nanny have had the most successful breeding season since 1990 | © David Woodall
An Arctic tern perching on a branch at the Long Nanny shorebird nesting site in Northumberland
An Arctic tern at the Long Nanny nesting site | © National Trust Images/Derek Hatton

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Family on dunes at Embleton Sands in Northumberland

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