PROTECTION measures will be reviewed and upgraded at an island wildlife sanctuary in a bid to prevent further disturbance to a colony of Britain’s rarest sea birds.
RSPB staff are to re-examine existing safeguards at Coquet Island – off Amble, Northumberland – in the wake of the successful prosecution of two men for illegally disturbing its colony of protected roseate terns.
The island is home to virtually the UK’s entire breeding population of the birds, whose numbers have plummeted to just over 70 pairs.
The species is so rare and endangered that no one is allowed to land there without a special licence granted by English Nature, to avoid the risk of damage to the fragile breeding population.
RSPB wardens are on the island 24 hours a day, a CCTV system is in operation, warning signs are in place to deter trespassers and Northumbria Police has a special operation in place in the event of unauthorised landings.
Last week, two Amble men, cousins Leslie and Derwick Ramsay, were given community sentences and curfew orders by magistrates after being convicted of recklessly disturbing the roseate terns – an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
The offences were committed during two separate winkle-picking trips to the island last summer, when the pair’s activities caused nesting terns to panic and flee their nesting boxes.
The incidents were described in court by Paul Morrison, the RSPB’s site manager for Coquet Island, as “the worst case of disturbance we have ever experienced”.
Yesterday, Mr Morrison said illegal human trespass was extremely rare, and the outcome of the prosecution had been positive in raising public awareness of the international importance of the sanctuary.
He said: “The birds on Coquet Island are very, very special, and the need to minimise any disturbance to them was certainly reinforced by this prosecution. If people are silly enough to disregard our efforts to protect the birds then we have to act, and will.
“I would say 99.9% of the local population know this is a special place. We have something unique here because, although there are 44,000 sea birds on Coquet Island, it is the only effective colony of roseate terns in the UK. In the next couple of weeks, we will be discussing how we can strengthen up our resource and put new measures in place to safeguard the island.
“Every person I have spoken to since this court case has been very supportive of the RSPB and the work we do on the island. It has raised the profile and made us confident that what we are doing there is appreciated by the local community.”
Coquet Island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area because of its international importance as home to the tern colony.
It is owned by the Duke of Northumberland and leased to the RSPB, which manages it.
The island is specially protected under European and UK law, and also hosts colonies of arctic, common and sandwich terns, puffins, kittiwake and fulmars.