Orkney schools thanked for helping little terns to bumper year

Alison Nimmo

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Hope Community School and Burray Primary School were recently joined by local RSPB Scotland staff to celebrate the children's part in helping Orkney's little terns this year.

The rare seabirds nest at the popular 4th Barrier beach, where they raised a remarkable eight chicks this summer. In recent years the colony has dwindled to just a few birds, with few if any chicks surviving.

The turnaround is credited to a project the children carried out this spring, through which they created awareness-raising posters and chick shelters that were placed with decoy terns within a safe fenced area of the beach.

Alison Phillip, RSPB Scotland Conservation Officer, said, "The children who worked on this project have been an inspiration. We've already said a big thank you in person but I would like to say it again in print! The colony at Barrier No.4 is the northernmost outpost of these tiny birds, which are one of the UK's rarest seabirds. Let's hope we see some of this year's juveniles back in future to raise families of their own."

Both the schools and RSPB Scotland are keen to continue the project in future in an effort to turn the colony's fortune around.

The project was organised by RSPB Scotland's Outdoor Learning Officer Lindsey Taylor in partnership with both schools. RSPB Scotland's free outdoor learning service for schools is part-funded by Orkney Islands Council, and Stagecoach generously sponsored the project by providing transport for the children to and from the 4th Barrier.

1. Little terns spend the winter in Africa, flying back to Orkney beaches in April each year. They can be seen from mid-April onwards flying close to the shore line, looking for suitable places to feed and nest. They lay 1-3 eggs in a small scrape on the ground in sand or shingle. Once laid, the eggs take about three weeks to hatch. When the eggs hatch, usually in June, the small chicks stay in the area of the nest scrape for the first 24 hours. At about 1-2 days old the chicks will start to wander up and down the beach to find shelter. The chicks take three weeks to put on weight and grow flight feathers before they can fly.

2. Little terns are the UK's smallest tern species, being less than 25 cm long from the tip of their tail to their beak and weighing only 70g, the equivalent of two packets of crisps. The birds are white with grey wings, a black head and a small white forehead. They have a long yellow bill and yellow-orange legs.

3. Published long-term trends for little terns across the UK show a 22% decrease from 1986 to 2013 (The State of the UK's Birds 2014).

4. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

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