Tern-ing tides and the natural wonders of Lymington-Keyhaven

It boasts one of the best places for coastal walks and viewing wildlife on the south coast

Jun 27 2018

Your Hampshire

Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes Local Nature Reserve, between the town of Lymington and the coastal village of Keyhaven, is a fantastic resource for the local community and visitors to enjoy this unique area and its wildlife.

Much of the reserve is protected in law because of its importance for wildlife, like the Starlet Anemone or the Lagoon Cockle.  The birds that nest on the shingle banks and feed in the lagoons are the more obvious residents - and there is some innovative work underway by our New Forest sites rangers Julian and Adrian, involving an abandoned 20-foot long aluminium barge, to make sure it stays that way in the future.

Julian said: “Little Tern numbers have really dropped in recent years due to the loss of suitable nesting habitats. We’ve been trying to encourage them to continue nesting on the islands. Their natural nesting habitat is on islands offshore. They would just lay their eggs on shingle on the ground.”

However, the offshore shingle islands are being eroded by the sea and are often completely washed out by summer storms. Previously, to compensate for this loss of habitat, they have created artificial islands on the lagoons with little patches of shingle for the Terns to nest in.

Julian said: “To build new islands takes a lot of effort, so a quick, cheaper method has been to build rafts and then put the shingle on top of the rafts. The islands usually end up being swamped by nesting Black-headed Gulls and Canada Geese so tethering rafts on the lagoon means the Terns can nest in peace. Summer storms will not affect these rafts because they will move with the changing water levels.”

As Terns nest in colonies, the bigger the raft the more Terns could potentially nest on them – which is where the ambitious project to restore the 20-foot long aluminium barge which had laid abandoned for 16 years comes in.

Julian continued: "We are a nature reserve, there are wild birds here, so there are predators, like Kestrels. So these platforms also allow the chicks to hide from aerial predators."

The platforms have the benefit of protecting the chicks from the heat of the sun and the steep sides’ means foxes can not climb into them. Surrounding the lagoon is a fox-proof electric fence to deter foxes from getting to the chicks.

Model Tern statues and a loud speaker playing Tern calls have been added to make the rafts more attractive to terns.

The rafts were launched just in time for the nesting season. Julian said, "We’ve got three Little Tern chicks at the moment, which is fantastic news, and there are five other pairs nesting here at the moment." Here’s to a successful nesting season!

Ranger Julian explains more in this short video.

Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes Local Nature Reserve

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