Project History

The timeline

A look back at the project so far...

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 100 adults and 350 chicks have been ringed at 13 sites.  As the rings are so small, we need to resight them using cameras and digiscopes.  We are hearing about re-sighting of these ringed birds up and down the country, including green rings from the Republic of 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 vegetation 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.  We hold 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 2018 to find out if awareness amongst beach users of what we are trying to achieve has risen.

As the project covers only just over 26 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 minds the better ..........

All project sites are now benefiting from an increase in staffing. Wardens, rangers and volunteers enthusiasm and ideas are helping make a difference to little tern conservation.  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 standardised monitoring programme with the aim of recording breeding numbers and successes.  At the end of each season sites produce colony reports and raw data sheets, allowing production of an Annual Site Breeding Report. A Project Technical Group reviews results allowing for reasons for improvements to be identified or resources reallocated to deal with recurring problems.

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 .......

At the end of the 2018 breeding season we have moved on to forming the long-term conservation strategy for little terns, holding a 'Terning the Tide' Project Conference and planning the launch of a Species Recovery Plan. From 2019 onwards we expect to maintain the momentum of the LIFE Project and roll-out its learning and best practice to improve prospects further for the UK little tern population.