The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust is appealing for help from the public in protecting pairs of nesting ringed plovers Charadrius hiaticula on several beaches around the archipelago, including Porth Hellick on St Mary's and Beady Pool on St Agnes.

The Trust, which manages over 50% of land on the Isles of Scilly, is asking for walkers to take note of local signs and keep dogs on a short lead whilst exploring some beaches. Where nests have been identified, cordons are in place in the immediate area, but staying well away from these will give these tiny birds the best chance of survival. There are also signs out asking people and their dogs to keep away from oystercatcher nests at other sites.

Ringed plovers, along with many wader species, are highly vulnerable to disturbance and increasingly rare. They are having to compete more and more with humans, dogs and other forms of recreation to raise their chicks safely. They are well camouflaged in the pebbles and may abandon their chicks if scared. One study conducted in Spain found that dogs were the biggest triggers for ‘flushing’ behaviours in plover species, far more so than walkers alone.[i] Repeated disturbance, even for short amounts of time, can ultimately lead to complete abandonment of young chicks and eggs.


Images: Ringed plover chick © Martin Goodey; Oystercatcher chick © Margaret Holland

Julian Branscombe, CEO of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, says: “Whilst we know that your pet dog might just be playing, the ringed plover parents don't see it like that. Big paws and snappy jaws might also accidentally injure the chicks (or worse) as they can't yet fly away. Keeping your dog on a lead is a huge help.”

Around 5,400 pairs of ringed plovers breed on beaches around the UK, having shown a marked decline of over 50% since the 1980s.[ii] They are red-listed due to population declines and are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Ringed plovers were once considered a common breeding bird on the beaches around the Isles of Scilly. The annual population was regionally important, being one of only two substantial breeding populations in the south-west of England, but there has been a marked decline in recent years. A survey in 2000-2001 recorded between 30 and 50 pairs, showing a decline of around 50% since the mid- to late 1980s[iii] and numbers have dropped further since. The last breeding record of ringed plover in mainland Cornwall was in 1974.

In the last ten years, nests have been reported sporadically across several beaches on the bigger islands, but with varying degrees of success. For the first time in many years, 2019 saw the first successful nest on Porth Hellick beach, St Mary’s, thanks to efforts from the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Isles of Scilly Bird Group. However, the nests face constant pressures.

Will Wagstaff, Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Bird Group, says: “Whilst the Isles of Scilly have recorded an impressive 450 bird species, only around 50 of those breed here. Conserving them is a priority and we need the community and visitors to help protect these beautiful birds.”

Julian continues: “We want everyone to enjoy Scilly’s beautiful beaches, and for wildlife to thrive. Look out for the signs and please help us give these rare birds the best chance.”

Notes for editors

For more information, contact Lucy McRobert, Communications Manager, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust
07532 344933 [email protected]

Photo credits: banner (c) Malcolm Nicholson; ringed plover chick (c) Martin Goodey; oystercatcher chick (c) Margaret Holland

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust is a locally-run conservation wildlife charity that champions, values and manages our island landscapes for the benefit of current and future generations. Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust Limited. Reg. Charity No.1097807 Reg. Company No. 04726698.

The Isles of Scilly Bird Group champions birds, wildlife and birdwatching on the Isles of Scilly. We aim to inspire more people of all ages to enjoy our stunning wildlife and share their sightings and experiences, and to help local wildlife by carrying out targeted conservation work. Reg. Charity No. 1103454.

Images are available here for one-time use only in association with this story.

[i] Gómez-Serrano, M. A., Four-legged foes: dogs disturb nesting plovers more than people do on tourist beaches. Ibis: International Journal of Avian Science (2020) 163:2, pp.338-352.

[ii]Conway, G. J. et al., Breeding populations of Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius and Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula in the United Kingdom in 2007. Bird Study (2019) 66:1, pp.22-31.

[iii] Thomas, B., Hudson, N. and Flood, R. L, Essential Guide to Birds of the Isles of Scilly (2007).