Little tern conservation on Blakeney National Nature Reserve

A little tern being ringed on Blakeney Point

Blakeney Point is one of the most important sites in Europe for breeding terns. Each year National Trust rangers based on-site in the former Lifeboat House work with volunteers during the breeding season in order to ensure we are doing all we can to help these birds breed successfully.

Little terns on the Blakeney Point and what we do

 
Why we protect them?
 
Blakeney Point is one of the most important sites in Europe for breeding terns. Along with Sandwich, Arctic and Common terns, Little terns return each year to breed here. However, Little terns need a very particular combination of factors for successful breeding – a good food source within 2km of the nest, few predators, good weather and suitable beach profiles as their nests can be vulnerable to flooding, and safety from disturbance. Little terns are one of the UK’s rarest seabirds, currently in decline both in the UK and Europe and are therefore listed in the UK’s Amber conservation category. As a Schedule 1 bird they are legally protected, meaning any disturbance, including photographing the bird on its nest, is a criminal act. Egg theft is still a problem for bird conservation, and more recently there has been an increase in disturbances due to people seeking to get close for photographs. Given the status of both the bird and the location, it is vital that we protect the birds on Blakeney Point when they come back to breed. Each year National Trust rangers based on-site in the former Lifeboat House during the breeding season work with volunteers in order to ensure we are doing all we can to help these birds breed successfully.
 
 
How do we protect them?
 
One of the most obvious signs of our work on the Point are the fencelines that go up in early April and are taken down in the second half of August. These cordon off the colony sites where Little terns and other birds nest, partly because their nests are simply a scrape in the shingle - the eggs are extremely well camouflaged and therefore difficult to see - and partly because these birds are extremely vulnerable to disturbance. Unfortunately however relaxed or uninterested a dog might be, where we see a friendly family pet the birds see a predator. Disturbance by people, dogs, and predators can and do cause birds to leave eggs and chicks unattended at crucial stages meaning they will not succeed in hatching or fledging. Birds can abandon nests, the site or breeding altogether that year, or attempt to re-lay when it is too late to successfully fledge a chick and then abandon the chick when the urge to migrate becomes too strong. Although the National Trust tries to maintain as much access as it can for the public, for five months of the year during the breeding season we have to prioritise the needs of the birds or face losing both them and shrinking diversity in the long run. This means limiting where dogs can be walked (whether on or off a lead) and closing off certain areas to public access.
 
As well as species protection we also carry out many other tasks that are Little tern-related during the breeding season, including breeding bird surveys, monitoring nests both in person and via nest cameras, predator control, and engagement work such as guided walks and illustrated talks.