(Above, Little Tern Chesil Beach © RSPB)
New Chesil Beach Study reveals 16 year 100,000km journey of rare seabird
Wildlife conservationists studying rare little terns nesting on Chesil Beach have discovered that two of the nesting colony residents are now fifteen and sixteen years old, and during their annual African migrations have notched up over 100,000km each.
The discovery was made during the fitting of new colour rings to the Chesil little terns in conjunction with the EU LIFE Little Tern Project.
Thalassa McMurdo Hamilton, Little Tern Project Officer said; “Steve Hales, a local bird ringer, carried out the colour ringing with Luke Phillips of RSPB. Steve has had a long association with metal ringing little tern chicks at Chesil in the past. As the ringing got underway we noticed some of the adults were glinting silver on their legs they already had a metal ring on and luckily, we managed to catch a few of these. We excitedly wrote down the ring number and Steve went home to check the BTO records to see how old they were. A few hours later Steve revealed, incredibly, that he had ringed these birds at Chesil Beach in 1999 and 2000 making these adults 15 and 16 years old!”
Steve Hales said “Handling a bird which I had ringed as a week-old chick on the same beach sixteen years ago was very rewarding. It emphasised just what an age some of our smaller seabirds can reach. The next three years of colour ringing the little terns under the EU LIFE partnership will hopefully produce other exciting discoveries.”
The Chesil Beach Little Tern project is in its sixth year, and with the number of breeding pairs increasing, project staff were delighted to be included in the national ringing project.
"An adult weighs the same as a tennis ball"
Thalassa added; “I was amazed to discover that these birds are returning here where they were first reared and that they are still breeding after 16 years. They are such small birds an adult weighs the same as a tennis ball - and deal with lots of stress during chick rearing so I couldn’t believe they were so old. They are much tougher than we think, as these birds have travelled over 100,000km in their lifetime which is astounding.”
“Being able to identify individuals at a colony has huge benefits to this species, the second rarest breeding seabird in the UK. It allows conservationists to understand the movement of little terns between different colonies, how faithful they are to their breeding colonies and, moreover, we can learn more about adult and juvenile survival. These questions remain largely unanswered and so armed with this information we will be better able to conserve this species.
“We’ve made a great start in 2015 and we will hopefully ring many more over the next few years, and gain an insight into these tough little terns, at the only colony in the southwest of England.
Marc Smith, Dorset Wildlife Trust Chesil Centre Officer said: "It is great to know that that these little terns are returning to Chesil Beach, even after such a long time. It just goes to show how important this area is for this rare little bird. The colony has been very successful over the last three years, with well over a hundred fledglings. Hopefully we will be seeing many of these return in the years to come."
Gary Thompson, Coastal Manager for The Crown Estate, said: “As manager of Chesil beach and approximately half the UK foreshore, we know that good estate management of the coastal environment is crucial to the future of our wildlife and the sustainable development of our natural assets over the long term. We are delighted to have been able to support the little tern project since its inception and today’s fantastic news of its continued success demonstrates what can be achieved through dedication and working in partnership.”
The Chesil Beach Little Tern Project is a partnership between RSPB, Natural England, Crown Estate, Portland Court Leet, Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Chesil and Fleet Nature Reserve.
For further information, images and to arrange an interview please contact
Tony Whitehead, RSPB South West Press Officer 01392 453754, 07872 414365
- The oldest UK little tern is thought to be a bird that was colour-ringed in 2014 at a pre-breeding roost on the Inner Farne Islands, Northumberland. It was first ringed nearby on the Northumberland coast in 1992. This tern made it to 21 years and 10 months old at its time of recapture.
- This EU LIFE funded UK-wide Project - involving 10 partners - will lay the foundations for the long-term recovery of the little tern in the UK by increasing numbers of breeding pairs and productivity, identifying long-term plans for conservation and increasing public awareness and support.
- The European Commission manages the LIFE programme which is the European Union’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action. Natura 2000 is a network of sites which represent important habitat areas of the highest value for fauna and flora in Europe. It was set up to protect 200 important habitat types which are home to around 700 species. The LIFE funding allows the Natura 2000 network of sites to be protected and enhanced so that their value can be enjoyed by future generations.
- The EU LIFE Project partners are: Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Denbighshire County Council, Durham County Council, the Industry Nature Conservation Association (INCA), Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Natural England, Northumberland County Council/Northumberland Coast AONB , RSPB and Spurn Bird Observatory Trust.
- The EU LIFE Little Tern Recovery Project website is www.rspb.org.uk/littleternproject
- There are approximately 1,500 to 1,900 pairs of little terns in the UK. Published long-term trends are -22% from 1986 to 2013 and -4% from 2000 to 2013 (The State of the UK’s Birds 2014).
- Little terns are listed on Schedule1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to intentionally or recklessly disturb them while nesting.