Record year for breeding birds and rare sightings on Teesside at RSPB Saltholme

Ed Pritchard, Warden at RSPB Saltholme. Credit: Lydia Cave/Lockhart Horsburgh

A nature reserve on Teesside says it has experienced one of its most successful years on record.

Breeding rates of both Avocet and Lapwing have increased at RSPB Saltholme, following the installation of a predator fence in Autumn 2021.

The 4.5km fence encloses areas of wet grassland - a favourite nesting habitat for ground-nesting birds - and protects birds from land predators such as foxes.

The structure also allows breeding pairs to nest further away from each other, reducing the risk of nests being trampled by cattle and the spread of disease.

Lapwing productivity has doubled year on year. Credit: Lockhart Horsburgh

Lapwing and Avocet productivity has increased significantly since the installation of the fence and is now at a level that means the population is increasing. A productivity score is a measure of the number of chicks that fledge.

Lapwing productivity has nearly doubled since 2021, with 0.88 chicks per pair surviving until fledging compared to a target of 0.7 for a stable Lapwing population.

Similarly, in the last year Avocet productivity has increased to 1.05 chicks per pair surviving until fledging. This has more than doubled from the previous year.

“This is a fantastic result for nature on Teesside”, said Ed Pritchard, warden at RSPB Saltholme. “Ground-nesting waders are one of the conservation priorities for the reserve, and so the success of the predator fence this year is encouraging for the future of these species.”

Avocet productivity has increased to 1.05 chicks per pair surviving until fledging. Credit: Lockhart Horsburgh

These statistics are set against a backdrop of widespread population declines in the UK and internationally.

For example, Lapwing is placed on the UK Red List, which indicates the highest possible level of conservation concern, caused by dramatic declines in population sizes.

Mr Pritchard added: "Although the 2022 result is encouraging, our conservation work will continue at RSPB Saltholme to help save this species."

As well as breeding success, a number of birds that are not typically seen in the UK, have landed on Teesside this year.

Over the summer months, three Glossy Ibis were regularly seen at the reserve. This species breeds in southern Europe and so is only an occasional visitor to this country. A Lesser Yellowlegs (a North American wader) also entertained visitors throughout September.

A Collared Pratincole flew into RSPB Saltholme during October which is the first record of this bird for the region, as this species is usually only seen as far north as southern Europe; in October, the bird ought to have been on its migration journey to Africa. The bird began to fly south shortly after landing. 

A number of rare birds, including the nightjar, were spotted at the nature reserve in 2022. Credit: Mark Stokeld

Added to this a migrating nightjar used RSPB Saltholme as a resting site for just over a week at the end of September.

This was another first for the region, and one that drew a crowd. Nightjars rely on their incredible camouflage to remain hidden during the day (they are more active at night), and so having prolonged views of this bird was incredibly special.

The nature reserve was also given the prestigious Gold Award from VisitEngland for the third time.

It is one of 12 attractions in the North-East to receive an award this year - the highest number of awards for the North-East region in any year to date.

A bittern hiding in the grass. Credit: Mark Stokeld

Chris Francis, site manager at RSPB Saltholme, said: “What a year it has been. Winning the VisitEngland Gold Award was the icing on the cake of a fantastic year for nature here on Teesside. We’re looking forward to welcoming lots of new visitors in 2023 and building on the conservation successes so far.”

“Now, more than ever, people need nature for their health and wellbeing and nature has never needed us more. We look forward to attracting thousands of new visitors over the next year and offering them the warmest of welcomes.”

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