Pewit Island Nature Reserve to be restored for wildlife

Chinook transporting the aggregate © Chris Lycett

The small islet within Portsmouth harbour will benefit from a habitat restoration project in a joint exercise with the MoD and Natural England. Today, a Chinook helicopter delivered 56 tonnes of shingle to create new habitat for coastal birds.

Pewit Island Nature Reserve was once home to a thriving seabird colony, but this has declined due to human disturbance and habitat degradation resulting in the site becoming unsuitable for birds to colonise. Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, working with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), today delivered around 56 tonnes of shingle on to the island, creating the perfect habitat for gulls and terns to breed. In a first for the Trust, the shingle was lowered onto the island using one of the MoD helicopters. The additional gravel will also improve the habitat for roosting waders in winter; with oystercatcher, dunlin and red-listed curlew all regularly using the site as a high tide roost.    

The shingle was donated to the project by Day Aggregates and Tarmac, special thanks to James Day and Mark Russell of the Mineral Products Association, who facilitated the shingle. The MOD lent their time with the Chinook and a floating platform called a MEXEFLOTE, as part of a joint training exercise with the helicopter and associated maritime craft. Due to the remote nature of the site and its location in a very shallow section of the harbour, lowering the shingle, rather than carrying it in multiple trips via boat was the only option to restore the habitat. The gravel will replace scrubby grassland and will be used by birds to create the small scrapes into which they lay their camouflaged eggs. It is hoped that species including black-headed gull, sandwich tern, common tern and ringed plover will start using the site to breed.   

With increasing recreational pressure and the threat of further development within the Harbour now is the time to deliver innovative restoration works to safeguard the Harbour’s sensitive and vulnerable wildlife. These works will provide both vitally important breeding areas and roosting areas for birds and the establishment and protection of internationally important habitats.   

Reserves Officer Chris Lycett said:  

“This project is very exciting and has the potential to return breeding seabirds to Portsmouth harbour, something that hasn’t been seen in a very long time. It could prove to be a significant boost to breeding terns in the Solent area. Working with the various partners for this project has been great and I’m really pleased that it has gone ahead, after several years of planning.”  

The addition of the new shingle habitat is only the first stage in the return of the breeding seabirds. Decoys will be added in summer to encourage birds to visit the site and tempt them to breed there in 2022. Electric fencing will also be needed next year to deter predators which will be on the lookout for the eggs and young of these ground-nesting birds.   

Pewit Island is one of the Trust’s restricted-access nature reserves, and we would like to remind people they cannot land boats on the island. Doing so would disturb the wildlife living there and has the potential to damage fragile saltmarsh habitats found there. The islet can be viewed from the Portchester coastline and the Trust looks forward to nature enthusiasts being able to watch the dramas unfold from the new breeding colonies once works are complete.