Big boost for little tern

CONSERVATION workers are doing a good turn for the little tern.The birds - the UK's second rarest breeding seabird - are set to benefit from a new project on the Suffolk coast to create extra habitat and encourage them to nest.

CONSERVATION workers are doing a good turn for the little tern.

The birds - the UK's second rarest breeding seabird - are set to benefit from a new project on the Suffolk coast to create extra habitat and encourage them to nest.

Wardens at RSPB Minsmere nature reserve are hoping to attract the tiny birds to nest on specially-created islands covered in cockleshells.

Little terns prefer to nest on shingle beaches, but this leaves them at risk from human disturbance and storm tides.


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As a result, breeding success at Minsmere and other sites in Suffolk has been poor in recent years, so the RSPB is hoping to create an alternative habitat on islands on the famous Minsmere Scrape.

The RSPB is making bare, vegetation-free islands by spreading cockleshells on the surface of existing islands on East Scrape.

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These shells are a by-product of the cockle-fishing industry in Essex, a readily available, natural waste product being put to good use.

RSPB spokesman Ian Barthorpe said “We hope that when little terns return from Africa in late April, they will find these new islands to their liking, giving them a more secure nesting area.

“Many little tern nests are lost due to high tides, and summer storms, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

“These islands will be much less vulnerable to flooding, helping the terns to nest more successfully.

“Visitors enjoy watching little terns feeding offshore, diving headlong into the sea for tiny sandeels, but they are difficult to see when they are nesting on the beach.

“Little terns are charismatic little birds, and if these islands are successful, we are sure visitors will enjoy the chance to see them nesting safely on the Scrape, close to the East Hide.”

Similar cockle islands were created at nearby RSPB Havergate Island in early February with the aim of attracting little terns to nest on the island, where they will be safe from disturbance.

FASTFACTS: Little Terns

Only about 2,500 pairs of little terns nest annually in the UK.

The largest colony is at Great Yarmouth North Denes, where RSPB wardens patrol a specially fenced area of the beach.

Little terns are tiny - only eight to ten inches long. Like most terns, the underparts are pure white, and their back and upper wings are pale grey. They have black cap, white forehead and a bright yellow beak.

They are summer visitors to the UK, spending the winter in and around the coast of Africa.

They feed on tiny fish, especially sandeels, which are caught by diving into the sea from a few metres above it.

The rarest seabird in the UK is the roseate tern, which breeds at a few colonies in Northumberland and Wales.

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