Images by Kevin Simmonds
Images by Kevin Simmonds
Little Tern Project
Little Tern Project

National progress

In the beginning ..... September 2013, funding from the EU LIFE+ Nature Recovery Programme was awarded and the project began.  Two project start up meetings were held in November with all the partners.  December saw the east coast, a stronghold in terms of summer breeding areas for little terns, suffer storm surges resulting in the highest water seen for 60 years.  Project  staff quickly set about assessing damage to reserves infrastructure, flood defences and coastal habitats.

Ringing the changes ...... April 2014 saw the first little terns return to UK sites and in May 2014 the project colour ringing programme began.  To date 26 adults and 106 chicks have been ringed at 11 sites.  As the rings are so small, we need to resight them using cameras and digiscopes.  We are hearing about re-sighting up and down the country and from Ireland.  In winter 2014/15 two little terns, spotted in the Gambia, were identified as being from the Winterton and Blakeney sites in Norfolk.  In early 2016, two of the eight adults colour ringed in 2015 at Chesil Beach, Dorset were seen at the colony having returned from west Africa.

New homes ........ managing and enhancing existing little tern nesting areas on beaches is a key element against the impending threat from climate change and sea level rise.  Areas to create new sites are being looked at where shingle can be placed and vegatation managed to create suitable homes.  Carrying out this work will provide the best longer term opportunities for little terns.

Together we can make a difference ........ During the little tern breeding season beaches are very busy with visitors enjoying the scenery and recreational activities.  When appropriate we hold or join local meetings to discuss and explain the need to fence sites or manage areas to protect little terns during the summer months.  This way we can work with local beach users so both wildlife and people can use and enjoy the beaches.


In the summer of 2014, we carried out beach visitor attitude surveys, at eight project sites, which have frequent visitors.  We will repeat the survey again in summer 2017 to find out if awareness amongst beach users of what we are trying to achieve has risen.


As the project covers only just over 20 sites in the UK, networking with other partners and projects is important to build knowledge of little tern conservation work all around the UK and beyond.  We have so far visited non-project sites at Chesil Beach, Dorset; Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, East Sussex; Coquet Island, Northumberland; Dunbar, East Lothian; Kilcoole, Ireland; Point of Ayre nature reserve, Isle of Man and various sites in the Netherlands.

The more the merrier .......... All project sites are now benefiting from an increase in staffing , which over the past two breeding seasons has allowed us to introduce a monitoring scheme to record breeding activities, success rates and disturbance.  Also wardens are making use of nest cameras, infra-red and night vision equipment for tracking predators: working across sites in partnership, with more flexible, mobile operations; carrying out diversionary feeding and initiating more effective engagement with stakeholders - critical to the long term future of  little terns.

Monitoring ...... One of the key measures of success of the project is numbers of little tern chicks, adults and fledglings across project sites in each year.  In order to ascertain this we have introduced a monitoring programme with the aim of recording breeding numbers and successes.  At the end of the first and second seasons’ sites produced Annual Site Breeding Reports which were analysed by the project's technical group.  The sites are informed of findings allowing them to modify their site management for the following season.

Reviews ...... Many of the project sites are located within nature reserves managed by the project's partner organisations using management plans.  We have reviewed these plans in order to set out future site management and will draw on the lessons learned throughout the project.  Additionally, current plans may need updating to reflect new work proposed through the project.


We keep under review any external policy legaslative matters which may affect the little terns such as development and coastal management plans.

The Future ....... As the 2016 season ends, we need to start discussing the long-term conservation strategy for little terns and prepare a Conservation Plan that will be agreed and ready to implement in the future as the project ends.

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Little Tern Recovery Project is generously supported by the EU LIFE+ Nature Programme