TWO Oystercatcher chicks have hatched at a nest at Hengistbury Head for the first time in 63 years.

But experts fear one of the two vulnerable little birds has already been taken by seagulls.

And they have urged the public to help to protect the remaining chick and two adults.

BCP Council's Countryside Officer Robin Harley said he was surprised when he was told the distinctive black and white wading birds had nested there.

He told the Daily Echo: "It came as a surprise that a pair were discovered nesting with two eggs in the Christchurch Harbour area by a member of the public. Action was taken to protect the nest and raise awareness locally, and we were delighted when both eggs hatched last week.

"The chicks were immediately mobile, but very vulnerable. Sadly one of them disappeared over the weekend, probably taken by gulls, which are a natural predator."

He said adult birds keep close to their chicks but if they are disturbed by people or dogs they are forced to fly off and leave their chicks exposed.

He added: "We have sadly had reports of a dog chasing the birds, and alarmingly a member of the public also reported seeing a small child handle one of the chicks."

The Oystercatcher is a black and white wading bird of the shoreline. It is resident all year round and feeds on small shellfish. Nesting sites are usually simple scrapes on shingle beaches, although they can breed inland and even on rooftops. Unlike most waders, adults continue to feed their young for several weeks.

David Taylor of the Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group (CHOG), said he and his colleagues are doing their best to protect them.

He said: "We have been working closely with council staff since breeding was confirmed and have erected temporary fencing and installed signs. This is a significant and welcome event as it is the first time there have been Oystercatcher chicks within the harbour since 1956.

"However, it will not be a success unless the remaining chick reaches an age where it is able to look after itself. We can best help their chances by respecting the signs and not doing anything that causes unnecessary disturbance."

He said he does not wish to reveal the exact location of the nest.