Little tern boating volunteer - Saving Nature Scheme

This delightful chattering tern, with its distinctive yellow beak, is suffering the effects of climate change and human disturbance. We need help to locate and monitor their Essex breeding colonies.

Wednesday 13 March 2019
Vacancy type:
Practical conservation, Surveying wildlife
Old Hall Marshes

What we're looking for

We are looking for kayakers, canoeists and sailors of all kinds to help locate and observe little terns and other beach-nesting birds around the Essex coast, specifically Hamford Water and the Blackwater Estuary and Colne Estuaries during the April to August breeding season. We would ask you to watch out for little terns while out on your boat, keeping records of their location and activities such as diving for fish or settling on beaches. Once little terns start to nest, we would like you to visit the colony from time to time to monitor numbers, nests and fledglings and if possible and safe keep a record of predators and human disturbance until chicks are fledged. This is an opportunity to connect with and help conserve the nature around you while out enjoying it! The little tern is one of Britain's rarest breeding seabirds and has suffered chronic decline over the past 25 years in part due to the loss of suitable coastal breeding sites. They nest on sand or shingle coastal beaches near shallow, sheltered feeding areas where they catch small fish, invertebrates and surface insects. Unfortunately, in Essex little terns are struggling to find a safe place to nest on our beaches due to increasing recreational activities, climate change, habitat loss and predation, as such their numbers are at a low ebb and colonies are restricted to remote and difficult to reach places. This presents an ongoing challenge to both the species and conservation efforts. As a boat user you are uniquely placed to feed into the ongoing efforts to save this charming summer visitor to our shores. As a partner in the national EU LIFE little tern project, the RSPB in eastern England has worked to increase the population of little terns through restoration, creation and management of breeding sites; monitoring and protecting nesting terns and their young during the breeding season; and increasing public awareness to ensure support for the long term protection of little terns.

The skills you need

An interest and enthusiasm for seabirds and other wildlife is beneficial with a keenness to learn about the identification and protection of little terns and other seabirds essential. Surveying and monitoring these birds requires patience, so you need to be willing to observe for periods of time. You may need to survey in all weather conditions, as long as it's safe to put to sea. You will need to be able to keep accurate written records using the little tern data monitoring sheets. An ability to be discrete with sensitive information and to use tact and diplomacy will be necessary. Your own optical equipment is also required. Those in charge of boats will need to demonstrate competency for boat use in estuarine waters, to meet RSPB safety standards for our volunteers. It would be great if you could give a minimum of one half day per week throughout the breeding season (April - August), but any support would be appreciated. Training starts in April, with surveying staring in around early May and RSPB staff will provide ongoing support throughout the season.

Your time

Minimum 1 day per week
May to mid August each year

What's in it for you?

If you like the idea of combining boating activities with the conservation and recovery of the little terns and other beach-nesting birds, this is the role for you! As an RSPB volunteer you are part of something big – a team of amazing and dedicated people who donate their time, energy, talent and skills to help birds and other wildlife. You will have a chance to learn and develop bird survey skills, learn more about little terns and other seabirds, and contribute to the conservation of little terns around the Essex coast. Full training and support will be provided by RSPB staff. As the largest conservation charity in Europe, the RSPB can help you gain skills, meet a range of like-minded people, make new friends, and give you a valuable insight into our work. Your support will help to make a genuine contribution to wildlife conservation.

How to apply


Kieren Alexander, Old Hall Marshes
Tel: 01621 869015


We would reimburse you for all reasonable out- of- pocket expenses, invite you to volunteer events, and of course give you ongoing support in your role. The RSPB puts the safety of its volunteers first, so we will expect you to meet the RSPB requirements for boat use. Boat master licences will be needed if you carry passengers. All vessels must be well maintained, conform to the required standards for the waters being operated in and hold the appropriate certificates. The RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe working to secure a healthy environment for birds and wildlife, helping to create a better world for all of us. We belong to BirdLife International, the global partnership of bird conservation organisations. Your time and skills could make a real difference to the work of the RSPB and it would be great if you could join us.

Reference number 8198