RSPB appeals for Suffolk volunteers to help save rare seabird

Rupert Masefield

Monday 13 March 2017

The RSPB is appealing for a group of dedicated volunteers to help protect little terns on the Suffolk coast this summer.

One of the UK's rarest seabirds, the little tern has suffered chronic declines over the past 25 years. The tiny chattering birds travel a 6,000 mile round trip each year to breed on the beaches of the British Isles, but their numbers have been declining as they struggle to find safe beaches to nest and feed their young, free from predators and human disturbance.

The East Anglian coast is home to half of the UK's breeding population during the summer, with some of the largest colonies found in Suffolk. The birds arrive in April and May and return migration starts in August and continues into September.

Fabienne Fossez, RSPB Little Tern Project Officer, said:"With over half of the UK breeding population making a home in East Anglia, little terns rely on our help here in the East. Our busy beaches are some of the best places left in the UK for little terns to raise their family each year.

"When nesting, these little birds are easily disturbed by people and vulnerable to predators such as crows and foxes. We are also seeing an increase in severe weather events on our coast which add to their troubles.

"Each year we recruit a team of volunteers to provide special protection for the birds on the east coast who help us to monitor the birds and help beach visitors understand how to make room for the birds during the crucial nesting and breeding season."

Help little terns this summer

A team of volunteer little tern wardens support the Little Tern Recovery Project every summer, by helping on Suffolk beaches where these special birds make their homes.

Thanks to funding from the EU LIFE+ Nature Programme and the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB's Touching the Tide project, the Little Tern Recovery Project is helping to ensure that our little terns have a successful trip to the Suffolk coast, and return to West Africa with a new brood in September.

The team of volunteers will be stationed at Benacre and Kessingland, monitoring the little tern colonies and helping beach visitors find out more about the special species.

Linda Clapp, volunteer little tern warden last year at Kessingland, Suffolk, said: "I didn't realise little terns nested on our beach and needed our help until we saw a poster up at Kessingland beach a year ago. I love being a little tern warden, and feel like the birds are part of the family! They have such a distinctive chattering sound, and make little noises when they are on the beach - I miss them when they're gone.

"I love spending my days be the sea, and talking to beach visitors about little terns. Most people are really interested to hear about why our beaches are so important for conserving this lovely species, so it's really social, and every day is different."

Volunteering at a little tern colony provides an opportunity to meet new people and be part of a small team working on some of the most beautiful beaches in the East.

You can learn more about bird ecology and witness the drama of an active tern colony, following these endearing birds as they raise their young from tiny bundles of fluff to intrepid fledglings before they fly back to West Africa for the winter.

No specific skills are required as all training will be provided. Some walking is necessary at some colonies, as is working outdoors in all weather conditions.

The project is currently looking for volunteers to help at RSPB and Natural England Suffolk sites Ben Acre and Kessingland.

If you'd like to help protect this wonderful seabird, please get in touch with Annette Salkeld, RSPB North Suffolk Coast Reserves Warden, 01728 648780,

1. Little terns are Britain's second rarest tern, with 1,900 breeding pairs in the UK each year - the roseate tern is the rarest.

2. RSPB works in partnership with Natural England, National Trust, local councils.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. In the East, the Little Tern Recovery Project is delivered in partnership by the RSPB, Natural England, National Trust, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Norfolk Coast Partnership and Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.

6. 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 14 of the Special Protection Areas under the Natura 2000 network of European designated sites that have a special importance for nature.

7. The EU LIFE Little Tern Recovery Project website is

8. There are approximately 1,500 to 1,900 pairs of little terns in the UK. Published long-term trends are -22% from 1986 to 2013 and -4% from 2000 to 2013 (The State of the UK's Birds 2014).

9. Little terns are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to intentionally or recklessly disturb them while nesting.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: England Topic: Conservation