As a summer stop-off point for vast numbers of birds, RSPB Coquet Island needs a lot of care, reports Wesley Davies.
Standing wild and desolate through winter, the short cliffs and flat plateau of Coquet Island sport only a solitary, castellated lighthouse. As winter lifts, a team of resident wardens and volunteers prepare the grassland, rocky terraces and nestboxes for the return of a dazzling multitude of birds. Over 44,000 seabirds migrate from as far as Antarctica to take advantage of the sanctuary of this island.
By June, the island is a dense hive of activity, with thousands of nests appearing just inches apart overground, while puffin burrows riddle the earth below. Puffins dominate the plateau – 24,000 of these brightly beaked and inquisitive souls encircle Coquet’s ternery.
Welcome to tern town
The ternery is the island’s epicentre, comprising the graceful Arctic tern, fierce common tern, elegantly-crested Sandwich tern and the exquisite, aptly-named roseate tern. In fact, Coquet Island is the only colony of roseate terns in the UK.
Supported by the Roseate Tern LIFE Project, the island had a record year in 2017, with 111 pairs logged. Arctic, common and Sandwich terns all occur in vast numbers, with over 1,200 pairs of each spending summer on Coquet in a dense colony around the lighthouse; courting and squabbling among themselves until a predator is in sight, when they band together forming a formidable group defence.
It’s the ferocity of the colonial response, good food supply, tailored habitat, and protection from human disturbance that keeps the roseate terns returning year-on-year – all made possible by our hard-working volunteers.
Two ways to get closer
Get up-close with nature on Coquet Island with Coquet Live until late August.
To protect the colony, no landings are permitted on Coquet, but remarkable views can be had from boat trips around the island with Puffin Cruises. Trips leave daily throughout the breeding season from Amble Harbour, Northumberland.