The RSPB is calling for volunteers to help protect little terns, a rare seabird soon to arrive on the Suffolk coast after a long migratory journey from their winter home in West Africa.
The little tern has become one of our rarest sea-birds after suffering chronic declines in their population over the last 25 years. With just 1,900 breeding pairs left after a 90% decline in their numbers over the last two years, these tiny chattering birds struggle to find safe beaches to nest and feed their young, free from predators and human disturbance, after travelling a 6,000 mile round trip each year to breed on the beaches of the British Isles.
The East Anglian coast is home to half of the UK’s breeding population during the summer, with some of the largest colonies found in Suffolk. Last summer, little terns on Benacre beach battled against the odds to have their best breeding season for fifteen years. Thanks to the dedication of local volunteers and team work, 116 pairs nested at Benacre and fledged around 180 chicks. The birds arrive in April and May and return migration starts in August and continues into September.
Funding from the EU LIFE+ Nature Programme and the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB’s Touching the Tide project, the Little Tern Recovery Project is helping to ensure that the little terns have a successful trip to the Suffolk coast, and return to West Africa with a new brood in September.
This EU LIFE funded UK-wide Project – involving 10 partners – will lay the foundations for the long-term recovery of the little tern in the UK by increasing numbers of breeding pairs and productivity, identifying long-term plans for conservation and increasing public awareness and support. The LIFE programme is the European Union’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action and Natura 2000 is a network of sites which represent important habitat areas of the highest value for fauna and flora in Europe. It was set up to protect 200 important habitat types which are home to around 700 species and the LIFE funding allows the Natura 2000 network of sites to be protected and enhanced so that their value can be enjoyed by future generations.
The LIFE Project partners manage over 20 little tern colony sites across England and Wales, representing 65-70% of the total UK population and each summer, a team of volunteer little tern wardens assembles across the beaches of Suffolk to work with and support The Little Tern Recovery Project. The team of volunteers will be stationed at Suffolk beaches, monitoring the little tern colonies and helping beach visitors find out more about the special species.
Danny Hercock, RSPB Little Tern Project Officer, said: “With over half of the UK breeding population making a home in East Anglia, little terns rely on our help here in the East. Our busy beaches are one of the only suitable places left in the UK for little terns to raise their family each year.
“When nesting, these little birds are easily disturbed by people and vulnerable to predators such as crows and foxes. We are also seeing an increase in severe weather events on our coast which add to their troubles.
“Each year we recruit a team of volunteers to provide special protection for the birds on the East coast who help us to monitor the birds and help beach visitors understand how to make room for the birds during the crucial nesting and breeding season.”
Linda Clapp, volunteer little tern warden at Kessingland, Suffolk, added: “I did not realise little terns nested on our beach and needed our help until we saw a poster up at Kessingland beach a year ago. I love being a little tern warden, and feel like the birds are part of the family! They have such a distinctive chattering sound, and make little noises when they are on the beach – I miss them when they’re gone.
“I love spending my days be the sea, and talking to beach visitors about little terns. Most people are really interested to hear about why our beaches are so important for conserving this lovely species, so it’s really social, and every day is different.”
Volunteering at a little tern colony provides an opportunity to meet new people and be part of a small team working on some of the most beautiful beaches in the East. You can learn more about bird ecology and witness the drama of an active tern colony, following these endearing birds as they raise their young from tiny bundles of fluff to intrepid fledglings before they fly back to West Africa for the winter. No specific skills are required as all training will be provided. Some walking is necessary at some colonies, as is working outdoors in all weather conditions.
The project is currently looking for volunteers to help at RSPB and Natural England Suffolk sites Ben Acre and Kessingland.
If you’d like to help protect this wonderful seabird, please get in touch with Daniel Hercock, RSPB Little Tern Project Officer, 01493 700645, firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos courtesy of the RSPB