Suffolk Wildlife Trust launches Save Our Chicks campaign to protect terns on Trimley Marshes

Trimley

Trimley - Credit: Archant

Common terns have been given a helping hand at a nature reserve near Felixstowe.

Trimley tern raft

Trimley tern raft - Credit: Archant

The Save Our Chicks campaign is the latest move by Suffolk Wildlife Trust aimed at securing the maximum breeding success for the bird species whose youngsters are vulnerable to natural predation.

Four specially-constructed tern rafts have been installed on the reserve’s reservoir. They replicate the terns’ beach-shingle nesting habitat but will be a safer environment for chicks as they will act as floating “maternity wards”, away from land and its hazards and predators.

The rafts have been made from recycled plastic. They have been funded by a grant of £21,836 from The Veolia Environmental Trust, which also funded an anti-predator fence for the reserve, through the Landfill Communities Fund.

Andrew Excell, the wildlife trust’s south-east Suffolk sites manager, said: “We need to get the rafts out into the middle of the reservoir to act as floating islands. We’ve left it this late in the year to attract common tern. If we’d put them in any earlier then they’d get covered in gulls. Although there’s no guarantee that we’ll get terns, we’re giving them the best chance possible.

“The rafts were made up by the manufacturer Filcris and then completed by Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s midweek volunteer team and our brilliant volunteers here at Trimley, including Mark Williams and Paul Williamson. The work involved screwing the raft together, making up four anchors per raft - paint tubs filled with cement - and loading up one tonne of shingle onto the rafts to mimic beach shingle.

“The reservoir regularly has feeding common terns, so these rafts are here to tempt them to breed.”

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Mr Excell added: “Our rafts have clear perspex sides for three reasons - to stop mink or otters climbing out of the water and onto the rafts to take eggs or chicks, also to keep eggs and chicks out of the wind and cold and even provide some warmth - the window effect - and thirdly to allow the public to see onto the raft and see what’s going on.”

Veolia Environmental Trust executive director Paul Taylor added: “We support community and environmental projects across the UK and it is always great to hear about the completion of one we have helped. I hope the improvements our grant has funded enable the tern population to thrive at Trimley and I look forward to hearing about the rafts and predator fencing’s success.”

The anti-predator fence at the reserve is two kilometres long and is designed to improve the breeding success of birds such as lapwing and redshank. It is 1.5 metres high and was built by Kiwi contractors under the Veolia funding.

Mr Excell has been recording mammal movements across the marshes for the last two years using footprint checks, dung recording and wildlife trap cameras.

“These methods have clearly flagged up the frequency of site use by foxes and badgers which is preventing birds from settling. At the moment we achieve optimal water levels for breeding waders which is great - we were seeing breeding displays but weren’t seeing the expected number of fledglings.

“The new fence will give the birds in the low-lying areas of grazing marsh at the back of the reserve more protection from ground predators. This will allow them to settle on their nests and incubate their eggs to full term which is about three to four weeks. Young lapwing can’t fly until they are about five to six weeks old and for the first 20 days need parents to protect them and teach them life skills. The protective fence will allow this to happen unimpeded.”