Rare seabird colony enjoys best breeding season for 26 years


A colony of one of the country’s rarest seabirds has had its most successful season for more than 25 years, the National Trust has said.

Nesting pairs of little terns fledged more than 200 chicks at Blakeney Point, a four-mile shingle spit off the north Norfolk coast cared for by the conservation charity.

The news comes as a welcome boost to the seabird, which has been in serious decline nationally since the 1980s, with fewer than 2,000 pairs now left in the UK.

Rangers counted 154 pairs of little terns nesting over the summer months and 201 chicks – the most since 1994.

They believe this was in part as the birds were less disturbed by people this year, with fewer visitors at the site at the beginning of the breeding season during the first national lockdown.

The little terns also nested at the far end of The Point, which is further away from the mainland, with fewer visitors walking that far along.

There were fewer predators affecting the little terns this year, rangers said.

They believe this could be, again, because the birds nested further away from the watch house, and were all together, meaning there was some safety in numbers.

Staff kept watch on the site to ward off predators using techniques such as laying out food sources away from the colony.

They also used clay decoys to encourage nesting in suitable areas of the shoreline.

Common terns had a similarly successful year, with 289 pairs fledging at least 170 chicks, the most since 1999.

Rangers believe the dramatic increase was contributed to by wet weather in June which flooded common tern colonies elsewhere leading the birds to relocate to Blakeney.

Sandwich terns were late arrivals to the site but arrived in high numbers, almost triple that of the previous year.

A little tern in flight over the coastline at Blakeney
A little tern in flight over the coastline at Blakeney

National Trust countryside manager Chris Bielby said: “Blakeney Point is part of a network of nesting sites for terns and plays a vital role in the survival of these summer migrants.

“Little terns have been rapidly declining in the UK for the past few decades, so it’s particularly rewarding to see so many of these tiny seabirds fledging the nest.

“The species is still very much at risk and we’ll need to keep up our efforts to make sure they have safe places to breed.

“But for now, it’s good to be able to celebrate a successful season given what a challenging year 2020 has been.”

The terns first arrived at Blakeney Point in the spring, having completed an epic migration from Africa.

During most breeding seasons they are looked after by a team of rangers and volunteers who camp out in a lifeboat house to provide a 24-hour watch.

However, restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic this year meant that rangers instead had to make daily trips up the shingle ridge to protect the colonies – which involves counting fledglings, warding off predators and talking to visitors about the work they carry out.