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Successful year for little terns

Hanne Siebers
A pair of little terns in a courtship ritual on Blakeney Point | © Hanne Siebers

Little terns on Blakeney Point have enjoyed a successful breeding season, in what has been a challenging year for many seabird colonies that have witnessed the devastating impact of avian flu.

One of the UK’s smallest seabirds, little terns migrate several thousand miles from Africa to breed, nesting in colonies on shingle beaches along the UK coastline.

Since the mid-1980s there has been a sharp decline in little tern numbers. Vulnerable to disturbance from people and dogs, little terns have also been impacted by habitat loss, high spring tides washing away nests, and threats from predators including foxes, rats, and birds of prey.

A good year for little terns

At Blakeney Point, the main little tern colony started to form in mid-May and by the end of June there were more than 80 pairs of little terns nesting, with a total of 96 recorded and a minimum of 49 chicks successfully fledged by the end of the season. This is the highest number of chicks for this small seabird since 2020, making this a ‘good year’.

Volunteers from the Iceni Bird Monitoring Group, who have the relevant licenses, helped ring the chicks.

Duncan Halpin, National Trust Ranger, said: “It’s always satisfying when you reach the end of the nesting season and you know a species has done well.”

Protecting nesting areas

“We are able to maintain a 24/7 presence on Blakeney Point throughout the breeding season thanks to our team of dedicated volunteers and employ a range of approaches to give little terns and other shorebirds the best chance of breeding,” continues Duncan.

“Nesting areas are fenced off to prevent people and dogs from getting too close to the birds. And this year we’ve combined old and new conservation methods, which we feel have helped improve the birds’ success rate.”

Electric fencing has been introduced to keep natural predators at bay. To increase the security of the young chicks further, the team has provided ‘chick shelters’, that can be placed near a nest to provide the chicks with somewhere to hide as they start to wander.

Modern technology was also utilized this year, with remote monitoring cameras giving rangers a close-up view of what was happening within the two colonies that had formed.

Duncan went on to say: “Although they’ve had a successful year, little terns are still under threat so it’s important we keep up our efforts to ensure they have safe sites to breed. This wouldn’t be possible without our dedicated volunteers who support us with their time to protect and monitor one of our most charismatic species.”

Breeding successes for other shorebirds

The success on Blakeney Point hasn’t been limited to little terns this summer. Ringed plovers and oystercatchers have also seen an increase in breeding success compared to recent years.

Across the Point there were 17 pairs of Ringed plovers producing a minimum of 20 chicks, up from 14 pairs and 8 chicks last year, as well as a total of 89 Oystercatcher pairs, up from 68 pairs last year.  

Although a large number of sandwich terns were also present on Blakeney Point at the start of the summer, they did not form breeding colonies, instead moving further along the coast to nearby Scolt Head Island.

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