One of our smallest and most elegant seabirds has broken recent breeding records at its sole South West England stronghold, with 71 chicks taking to the skies.
Thirty-nine pairs of little terns bred on Chesil Beach’s pebbles this summer, and 71 chicks fledged, a recent record both for the number of breeding pairs, and the number of young.
Volunteers have once again played a key role in the Little Tern Recovery Project’s success, with 36 people devoting hours of their time to watching nests, and helping make sure the vulnerable birds were not disturbed by passers-by, pets, or predators.
"It's been a really successful year"
RSPB project officer Ali Quinney said: “It’s been a really successful year, the chicks’ success has been amazing, 73 were hatched and 71 fledged, so we only lost two chicks.
“It is brilliant to see that with the right amount of management and with real commitment from volunteers these birds have been able to get themselves to a point where they can do well, hopefully they are now well on the way to increasing their numbers even more.”
Chesil is South West England’s only little tern colony and as recently as the 1990s as many as 100 pairs regularly bred there. The number dipped to only ten pairs in 2008 and the colony’s productivity this summer is the result of eight years hard work by organisations involved in the Little Recovery Tern Project.
DWT: "The project will need continued support to build upon this success"
Marc Smith, from Dorset Wildlife Trust said: “This is really exciting news. The colony is showing real signs of recovery, which is testament to partnership working combined with the hard work and commitment of volunteers. There is still a lot to do though and the project will need continued support to build upon this success.”
Chesil has gone against the trend shown at other colonies on the south coast this year, where fledging numbers in most cases were down. And there are very few colonies anywhere in the UK where breeding was as successful.
Chesil's colony is in improving health
Ordinarily 0.7 fledged chicks for each breeding pair is considered the minimum level of productivity needed for a colony of breeding birds to maintain itself; this summer’s outcome of 1.8 fledged chicks per pair is a good indication that Chesil’s colony is in improving health.
Helen Booker, RSPB senior conservation officer, said: “This is an exceptionally good level of productivity for little terns, which face many threats while breeding. Everybody involved in this project hopes the colony will continue its recovery and breeding numbers will match their former level very soon.”
Philip George, of Portland Court Leet, said: “The Crown Estate and the Portland Court Leet are pleased to have provided support to the RSPB over several years and we have witnessed growing little tern breeding success at Chesil Beach, well done to all concerned.”
"Many of the breeding birds and their young have been ringed"
Thirty-three pairs bred at Chesil in both 2014 and 2015, until this year the highest number since the project started in 2009. Many of the breeding birds and their young have been ringed, which should provide much needed information on how the birds move between colonies.
One of the smallest seabirds, the little tern, which migrates to Africa in the autumn before returning in the spring, has been in decline because of predation, food shortages and extreme weather conditions. It is on the UK’s amber list of birds of conservation concern – the second highest category.
Protecting Chesil’s little terns has been made possible by a coalition of organisations including the RSPB, Chesil Bank and Fleet Nature Reserve, Natural England, The Crown Estate, Portland Court Leet, and the Dorset Wildlife Trust.
For further information, images, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Chris Baker, RSPB Communications Officer, 01392 453299 / 07701 050010.
Funding for the project this year came from the RSPB, the Crown Estate and Portland Court Leet, supported by the other partners.