Tuesday, 31 July 2018

World Ranger Day

Today is #WorldRangerDay, a day to recognise the varied work that rangers are carrying out around the world. Ranger roles can be vastly different; in some places rangers are risking their lives to protect habitats or species, or are braving rain-soaked mountains to maintain footpaths enabling access and preventing erosion, or they could be inspiring the next generation of wildlife conservationists by taking a family rock-pooling or on a nature walk.

Working as a ranger for the National Trust on the Northumberland Coast is hugely varied in itself; with three different teams working on an incredibly wildlife-rich coastline it means no two days are the same.

The Long Nanny rangers 2018

Every year a 1km stretch of beach south of Beadnell is fenced off and a diversionary route around the back of the dune put in for walkers and beach-goers. It is all in aid of breeding arctic terns, ringed plovers and most notably the schedule 1 listed little tern. This year six rangers; Cal, Dom, Jake, James, Rob and Verity were the team on the Long Nanny shorebird site and for three months they lived and worked amongst the dunes protecting these beautiful birds. The role is challenging and the rangers have to protect the birds around the clock against predators, extreme tides and weather events as well as monitor feeding, disturbance, nest failures and successes. “It has been great to see and be part of the entire process, and although it has been hard work it is all worthwhile” says ranger Rob.

The rangers putting the little tern nests on boxes to protect them from the high tide
These six rangers have worked phenomenally hard and thanks to them the Long Nanny sees new, young arctic terns undertaking their first extraordinary migration flights and young ringed plovers that have fledged thanks to them providing a safe haven free from disturbance. Unfortunately the odds were stacked against the little terns this year and despite best efforts none fledged. These six rangers have protected an important breeding ground for another season and in the process have inspired people, witnessed amazing wildlife spectacles and made a huge scientific contribution to the conservation of the UKs breeding terns.

“Cracking wildlife, top people and an amazing experience. It’s been grand.” Cal, Long Nanny ranger 2018
The Farne Island rangers 2018

The Farne Islands lie just off the Northumberland Coast in the North Sea and they are the place to be if you’re a puffin, photographer, guillemot, twitcher, razorbill….the list goes on. The islands are busy in the summer; the cliffs are crammed with breeding birds giving the islands a distinctive smell, and people arrive by the boat-load to experience this incredible spectacle of nature. The team making sure all of this runs smoothly are the fourteen Farne Island rangers. They’re a dedicated bunch, living on the islands where there is no running water and where leaving the house means invariably being pooed on by a bird at some point.

Each year they undertake an incredible amount of monitoring, meaning the wildlife on the Farnes is some of the most closely watched in the UK. This year they carried out the five yearly puffin census which unfortunately has showed a decline in numbers, it is essential that we pick up on these trends so that mitigation measures can be put in place wherever possible. Through their rigorous monitoring the Farne islands rangers enable the best possible protection measures to be undertaken for the islands.

As well as all the data collection the rangers roll up their sleeves and hand scrub the jetty so that it is free of algae and safe for visitors, deliver talks on the history of the islands, maintain the walkways, keep the toilets clean and are always happy to share their wealth of knowledge with you.

It’s a unique way of life but the rangers love being immersed in nature, watching the islands develop through the season, experiencing epic sunsets and have a new found appreciation of tap water and showers. In their words they feel like a family, albeit a smelly one!

These rangers are out on the frontline of UK wildlife conservation protecting one of our most famous wildlife hotspots.

The Coast rangers

Jane, Kate and Kevin are the three coastal rangers who work all year round and support the Farnes and Long Nanny rangers. They also carry out all of the management work along the coast, whether it is tackling invasive species, woodland management, putting in new signage or conducting wildlife surveys to ensure that the work they do is achieving the best results. They are helped out by an eager army of volunteers who join them every Wednesday for a practical task; what they have achieved together builds up to be quite impressive.

In 20 years of working on the coast, ranger Kevin has witnessed the creation of hay meadows and hedgerows; has led on management of dune habitat and has seen countless birds fledge from the Long Nanny tern site. He is still filled with a sense of wonder and curiosity for the landscape that he works in.

If we’re talking passion for the coast, its wildlife and its people you would be hard pressed to find someone more passionate than ranger Jane. She has inspired many a volunteer to give what they can to the conservation of coastal habitats and is happiest when digging around in a rock pool and showing her finds to enraptured families.

Kate is new to the team and is getting stuck into a lot of wildlife monitoring work along the coast, from birds to butterflies and bats to grasses. The Northumberland coast has so much wildlife to offer and Kate has enjoyed witnessing sand martins fledge from the dune cliffs, a tawny owl hunting over sunlit meadow at dawn and the heady scent of dune flowers in summer.

The three of them work together to deliver a whole programme of varied work and spend each day championing this incredibly special stretch of the UK coastline.
Ranger Jane tackling reed mace in Newton pool

Rangers Kate and Kevin proud of their sign installation

All of the Northumberland Coast ranger team stand proudly with the world’s rangers today in protecting wildlife and wild places on #WorldRangerDay

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A quick tern around

The breeding season has now ended for most of our nesting shorebirds. As we say goodbye to lots of the seasonal rangers that monitor and protect the birds both on the islands and the mainland, Kate, one of the coastal rangers reflects on how the 2017 season has been at the Long Nanny Tern Site.
‘Every year the end of season seems to come around too quickly, one day you are busy monitoring chicks and chasing kestrels and the next you realise the site has become eerily quiet. Handfuls of birds spiral high into the air signalling the beginning of their migration south. Handfuls become large groups and slowly the background chatter of the site reduces. The site is now closed and the assistant rangers that lived and worked on site have moved on to other things. It is always a mad rush to get the site collapsed: deconstructing huts, reeling in over a kilometre of fencing and securing the ranger hut for another winter. Suddenly it is all over and I find myself staring at a large pile of sand covered equipment, occupying most of the floor space in our workshop and wandering where on earth to store it over winter. We have been busy brushing sand off the night-shift torches, hosing down rope gunged up with seaweed and packing away the kitchen equipment. A few last trips to site to pick up the last bits are always a strange experience. With the ropes and signage removed, Beadnell bay is full of families enjoying the beach, and I have to check my impulse to run down and intercept beach users standing in the middle of what was the nesting site only a few days before.

Monitoring nests in the spit colony

This time of year is also when we reflect on how successful the season has been. Before the assistant rangers leave, they spend a busy few days writing the site report for the season, analysing all of the data recorded throughout the past three months. This data is also reported to the EU Little Tern LIFE project coordinated by the RSPB and other seabird data sets.   

Arctic terns had a much better season than last year. Just over 1800 pairs nested on site and a minimum of 479 chicks fledged. It is always tricky to reach an exact number as some juveniles will be starting their journey south before others have even started to grow their adult feathers. 479 was the most seen at one time but we believe the actual number of fledglings could be between 600 to 1000. Their success was impacted by high tides, periods of poor weather when chicks were newly hatched and a selection of predators.

Little terns were similarly affected although they receive more ranger intervention to protect them from predators and high tides. A minimum of 38 pairs nested on site but sadly only 4 chicks fledged. Lots of nests survived to hatching, but many chicks were then predated by black headed and lesser black-backed gulls. Although the rangers watched the colony 24 hours a day even their vigilance couldn’t prevent every gull intrusion into the site, with 11 attempts in an hour by one determined individual.

Ringed plover also nest on site and are an important part of the colony. This year a minimum of 9 pairs made sixteen nesting attempts and successfully fledged 3 chicks. They were similarly affected by gulls predating chicks and high spring tides.

Sunset at the Tern Site © Rachelle Regan

Overall a few ups and downs, as is the case every season.  Every year poses different problems and we never know what to expect until it happens. A massive thanks is needed to this years’ assistant rangers  - Ben, Freya, Marco, Marta and Ptolemy, and all the volunteers that worked tirelessly throughout the season to protect and monitor the colony. Also thanks everyone who visited the site and cooperated with the rangers to help make the breeding season as successful as possible.'