School children give little terns a fighting chance on the Norfolk Coast

Little tern coming in to land on a shingle beach

School children from Blakeney Primary School have helped make clay decoys that replicate little terns. It's hoped the decoys will attract the smallest seabird in the UK to nest in more suitable areas of the shoreline on Blakeney Point, giving them a fighting chance to successfully fledge their young.

Vulnerable nesting sites

The British population of little terns has seen a decline since the 1980s, with only around 2,000 pairs left.

They tend to lay one to three camouflaged eggs on shingle beaches, often close to the high water mark. These vulnerable nesting sites regularly get washed away if big tides are combined with stormy weather and strong onshore winds have regularly caused problems for little terns nesting in Norfolk. 

Children from Blakeney Primary School lend a hand on the Norfolk Coast
Child holding a little tern decoy on the beach
Children from Blakeney Primary School lend a hand on the Norfolk Coast

A helping hand for UK's smallest seabird

National Trust rangers have made decoys in the past, but this year the operation to make these replica birds has been a community effort. As well as children from Blakeney Primary School, the gallery Made in Cley has helped to fire the children’s decoys and Temple Seal Trips ferried the young group out to Blakeney Point, to ensure the decoys were out in time for the first arrivals. 

Little tern decoys used to attract little terns to nest in a certain area
A little tern decoy sitting on the beach used for attracting little terns to nest in that location
Little tern decoys used to attract little terns to nest in a certain area

All to improve breeding success 

National Trust Ranger, Ajay Tegala, said: “In the past, little terns have nested on areas of the beach vulnerable to tidal flooding when spring tides combine with northerly winds. This has led to dozens of eggs and chicks being lost.

"The decoy project is a vital method to help improve their breeding success. By putting the decoys on the shingle ridge, we’ll hopefully attract the little terns to nest high enough to avoid their nests from being flooded.”

Little terns typically follow others when it comes to nesting. Putting the decoys out early in the season will hopefully have the desired effect, encouraging the real birds to nest in more suitable locations. 

Little terns like to lay their eggs on the shingle beach at Blakeney Point
Little tern egg
Little terns like to lay their eggs on the shingle beach at Blakeney Point

Sabrina Fenn, the National Trust’s Membership Manager on the Norfolk Coast, said: “It’s really inspiring to see the children thinking about wildlife and what they can do to help protect it.

"A big part of our role as caretakers of the landscape is to raise awareness about how fragile it is and that it is important to treat it with respect. Seeing young minds enthusiastic about conservation is so satisfying for us and crucial for the future of our nature”.

The National Trust are partners in an RSPB-led EU LIFE+ Project, which aims to help little tern recovery in Britain.

Look out for National Trust rangers and volunteers who will be based in the hide at the Watch House colony throughout the breeding season, as well as monitoring the birds, they'll be happy to chat to visitors about one of the largest colonies of little terns in England.