Looking after terns at Long Nanny

Arctic tern at Long Nanny

Arctic terns at Long Nanny in Northumberland have failed to fledge chicks for the first time since 1980 after severe weather and lockdown restrictions hampered our work to protect them.

Little terns have fared better with up to six chicks leaving the site to begin their long migration to West Africa.

Our rangers had high hopes for the Arctic terns this year. A high sand spit, formed to the south of the estuary during winter, was expected to protect the nesting birds against high tides. But exceptionally high tides in June exacerbated by strong onshore winds washed away half of the nests. 

Many of the remaining nests were preyed upon by rats and stoats at a time when our rangers were unable to provide their usual round-the-clock care due to travel restrictions imposed by the lockdown. We think that these predators and other disturbances from people and a loose dog caused the remaining Arctic terns to abandon their nests towards the end of June. 

" It goes to show how important this conservation work is in protecting our declining species."
- Gwen Potter, countryside manager, National Trust
A parent Arctic tern with their young, fluffy chick

Arctic terns

The Arctic tern, which has the longest migration of any bird in the world, started breeding at Long Nanny in 1980 and has returned every year from Antarctica to nest. Last year more than 400 chicks fledged from the site. In recent years the site has been monitored 24 hours a day by a team of five rangers and seven volunteers but this level of protection was not possible during lockdown.

Little Tern, in flight, carrying a fish

Little terns

The little tern is one of the UK’s smallest seabirds, weighing roughly the same as a tennis ball. They feed mostly on sand eels and young herring and tend to lay between one and three camouflaged eggs on the beach. The little tern has been in serious decline since the 1980s, with fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs now left in the UK. This year, up to six chicks successfully fledged the site to start their long migration to West Africa.