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Terning the tide

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Little Tern Kevin Simmonds

Back in 2013, we began working nationally and regionally with nine other partner organisations on a project to identify the reasons for the decline in little tern populations. The successes of this project were brought together at a conference in Norwich last week.

The little tern – one of our rarest and smallest breeding seabirds – nests on open sand and shingle beaches around our coast between May and August each year. Across the UK their numbers have declined by almost a fifth since 2000 due to reduced breeding success and to the many threats they are exposed to on our beaches.

Threats to the nesting terns include disturbance from recreational visits to the beach, the impact of predators, a lack of suitable food in the sea near nesting sites and extreme weather conditions linked to climate change, causing tidal flooding.

Back in 2013, we began working nationally and regionally with nine other partner organisations on a project to identify the reasons for little tern declines and to implement trial solutions with the aim of beginning to turnaround the fortunes of the species. The EU LIFE Little Tern Recovery project was led by RSPB and attracted 50% funding from the EU LIFE Nature funding programme.

Almost three thousand little tern chicks successfully fledging at 26 sites around the UK over the past five years as well as identifying the main risks to the tern population and ways these could be reduced the project also looked at how best to tackle these issues, including ensuring that enough key sites for the terns are legally protected and ways in which the nesting sites can be protected from disturbance.

The success of the project would not have been possible without over 250 local volunteers who were recruited to carry out the conservation work necessary and champion the cause of the little tern.

This project success has been down to working together with local communities, beach users, the project partners and other organisations to ensure this little seabird will remain a summer inhabitant along the British shoreline.

At a conference in Norwich last week, to mark the end of the project, I spoke about some of the innovative habitat creation schemes we hope to trial here in Northumberland.

At that conference, Susan Rendell-Read, the EU LIFE little tern project manager said, “We achieved what we set out to do laying the foundations for long-term recovery but the future for little terns is by no means secure. Further funding is urgently needed to build on the lessons learned over the past five years and to make sure that our coasts remain a welcoming place for this wonderful seabird.”

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Global Conservation said, “Without a replacement for the EU LIFE fund, and a significant increase in funding for nature conservation across the UK, large-scale biodiversity projects will struggle to be funded, and the goals of the Westminster government’s 25-Year Environment Plan for England and the devolved governments’ ambitions for nature’s recovery in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be unachievable.”

We will continue to work alongside other conservationists to set up a UK Steering Group to continue the little tern conservation work and build on the impact of the LIFE Project successes.

You can read more about the Little Tern Recovery project here 

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