A tern for the better, as Blakeney has successful breeding season

Little tern coming in to land on a shingle beach
Published : 04 Sep 2017

The National Trust team at Blakeney National Nature Reserve are celebrating a successful year for breeding Little Terns with 56 chicks fledged; the largest amount since 2011.

These dainty little seabirds, the smallest of all the Terns, migrate from Africa each year to nest in coastal locations all around the UK. Sadly they are a declining species facing many challenges including climate change, loss of habitat, food availability and disturbance. 

The National Trust is a partner in an RSPB led EU Life project that aims to focus efforts in reversing the decline of this protected Schedule 1 species. Four years into this five year project and the Little Terns have had an outstanding season on Blakeney Point.

Little tern flying over Blakeney Point
little tern flying against a blue sky
Little tern flying over Blakeney Point

National Trust Ranger, Ajay Tegala, revealed that the Little Terns nest in three to five different locations on Blakeney Point, with the largest being the colony by the Watch House: “The colony on the main shingle ridge by the Watch House is by far the least vulnerable to tidal flooding. This makes it the most suitable place on the reserve for these elegant seabirds to lay their eggs and raise their chicks”.

Over the past four years of the EU Life Project a lot of effort has been put into protecting this part of the beach. Fence lines are placed around sensitive areas during the breeding season and an army of dedicated volunteers are present every day, monitoring the birds, speaking to and helping visitors to appreciate and enjoy these birds and minimise accidental disturbance. 

“This is the most productive season for many years and may have been even better, if it wasn’t for the tidal storm surge in June that sadly wiped out the nests on the far tip of Blakeney Point,” says volunteer Bill Landells. “Thankfully the main colony close to the Watch House is beyond the reach of all but exceptional high tides, which are rare in the summer breeding season”. 

With other breeding sites in Norfolk suffering tidal flooding, Blakeney saw a late arrival of birds as they made a second attempt at nesting.

 “Seeing the adorable chicks take their first flights is incredibly rewarding. Some years the team put in a huge amount of effort and time only to see nests get flooded, buried in wind-blown sand or the chicks die of starvation”, said Ajay.

A Little Tern sitting on the shingle beach on Blakeney Point
a little tern sitting on shingle
A Little Tern sitting on the shingle beach on Blakeney Point

As the National Trust celebrates the end of a successful Little Tern breeding season, these plucky seabirds are beginning their migration back to Africa and the team looks forward to welcoming them back next year.