Rare sea birds nest on North Denes beach a week before Air Show

Emily Kench

Friday 8 June 2018

Little Tern feeding well grown chick on shingle beach, Norfolk


  •          Little terns confirmed nesting on North Denes beach just one week before Great Yarmouth Air Show
  •          This is the first time a little tern colony has nested at North Denes in eight years
  •          These breeding birds are threatened by disturbance from Great Yarmouth Air Show
  •          The RSPB publicly calls on organisers to pledge not to hold the Air Show during the tern’s breeding season in future years
  •          Video of little terns and common terns at North Denes, and off shore at Scroby Sands this week can be found here

A colony of little terns has been seen nesting on North Denes beach for the first time in eight years, just one week before the Great Yarmouth Air Show. So far, five little tern nests have been counted, but with at least 40 birds showing an interest more nests are expected over the coming week.

The return of the little terns to North Denes beach demonstrates just how important the Great Yarmouth Borough is to the species. East Norfolk is a stronghold for the species, supporting 20% of the UK little tern population, a significant percentage given that over 25 years, little terns have suffered chronic declines across the UK.

A temporary fence has been erected to protect, and encourage visitors to respect the birds and give them the space they require. Great Yarmouth Borough Council is now working to provide this precious colony with the permanent protection it needs.

However, the success of these nests could be hampered by Great Yarmouth Air Show taking place next week. The Air Show takes place during a crucial time in the bird’s breeding season when eggs must be kept warm by the parent birds. Visual and noise disturbance from aircraft nearby could compromise the success of the North Denes’ nests, and affect potential nests at nearby Scroby Sands, where up to 200 little terns have been seen in previous years, and where 200-250 common terns have been sighted in recent weeks.

Little terns, common terns, Scroby Sands, and North Denes beach are all legally protected, and whilst the RSPB welcomes recent decisions from the Air Show organisers to create buffer zones between the displays and the birds, the charity is looking for the event organisers to commit to holding the Air Show outside of the breeding season in future years, removing risk of disturbance to the birds completely.

Jeff Knott, RSPB Director of Eastern England, said: “It is great to hear that the Air Show organisers are taking some of our rarest wildlife – a source of local pride – into account by shifting the display areas as far from the colonies as possible. It is also brilliant to hear that Great Yarmouth Borough Council are stepping up to get fencing in place to protect nesting little terns at North Denes. We are very lucky to share our shores with such a special bird here in Norfolk.

“Although we welcome changes to Air Show displays, we still believe that there is a high risk that the Air Show could disturb terns at this vulnerable time in their breeding season. Air Show organisers have stated that they will try to avoid holding the event during the little tern breeding season in future years. While this is welcome, we believe a firmer commitment is needed. We are therefore calling on organisers to publicly promise that they will hold the Great Yarmouth Air Show outside of the breeding season in future years.”

The RSPB is calling on Greater Yarmouth Tourism and Business Improvement Area Ltd and Great Yarmouth Borough Council to publicly pledge to:

  •          Hold future Great Yarmouth Air Shows outside of the tern breeding season.
  •         Invest in, and commit to protecting little terns in the borough of Great Yarmouth for future years.




For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Emily Kench, RSPB Communications Officer, Tel: 01603 697591, 07730194490, Emily.kench@rspb.org.uk  


Photographs and video:

For a selection of images of little terns and Scroby Sands, click on the dropbox link:



Editor’s notes:

1.    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.

2.    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.

3.    The EU LIFE Project partners are: Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Denbighshire County Council, Durham County Council, Industry Nature Conservation Association (INCA), Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Natural England, Northumberland County Council/Northumberland Coast AONB , RSPB and Spurn Bird Observatory Trust.

4.    The LIFE Project partners manage over 20 little tern colony sites across England and Wales, representing 65-70% of the total UK population. The Project takes place in 15 of the Special Protection Areas under the Natura 2000 network of European designated sites that have a special importance for nature.

5.    The EU LIFE Little Tern Recovery Project website is http://www.littleternproject.org.uk

6.    There are currently around 1,600 pairs of little terns known to breed in the UK. Published long-term trends are -18% from 2000 to 2015 (The State of the UK’s Birds 2016).

7.    The UK LIFE Project sites results over the last four years are: 2014 1,103 pairs fledged 524, 2015 961 pairs fledged 532, 2016 973 pairs fledged 709 and 2017 1,078 fledged 617. Breeding results can fluctuate. The 5-year average for Project sites prior to LIFE funding from 2009-2013 was 1,089 pairs and fledglings 609.

8.    Little terns are listed on the Annex I of the Birds Directive, which specifically prohibits, amongst other things, “deliberate disturbance of these birds particularly during the period of breeding and rearing, in so far as disturbance would be significant having regard to the objectives of this Directive.”

9.       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.



The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity.
In England and Wales, no: 207076.
In Scotland, no: SC037654.

Last Updated: Monday 3 June 2019

Tagged with: Topic: Campaigns Topic: Casework Topic: Bird species