Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project

With only four colonies left in western Europe, protecting our rarest breeding seabird is essential!

Roseate tern


Roseate terns have incredibly pale grey plumage, strikingly long tail streamers and a slight rosy flush to their breast. Their arrival on our coast marks the beginning of summer. 
Once widespread and found nesting in every country of the UK, roseate terns nearly became extinct in the 19th century because their plumage was prized for fashionable hats for ladies. Legal protection saved them from extinction, but in the 1960s they experienced one of the most dramatic population crashes of any of our nesting seabirds. 
Thanks to the long-term efforts of conservationists, the Western European population is now recovering, supporting just over 1,900 pairs in four core colonies in Ireland, France and the UK. 
Sadly, roseate terns continue to face many challenges. These are: 
  • eroding nesting habitat due to sea level increase and extreme weather events. 
  • food shortages due to climate-induced changes in the marine environment. 
  • human disturbance at nesting colonies, including egg collectors. 
  • predation from a range of mammals and birds, such as foxes, otters, rats, large gulls, crows and peregrines, and
  • multiple threats during migration and on wintering grounds (west Africa), including deterioration of their roosting sites and illegal trapping.
To address this challenge, the RSPB invited BirdWatch Ireland and the North Wales Wildlife Trust to form a partnership in a major conservation initiative. The EU-funded Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project started in October 2015 and will finish in 2020.


  1. Increase the population of roseate terns in the UK and Ireland by enhancing habitat management and reducing threats at the three principal colonies.
  2. Provide the conditions needed for a re-expansion of roseate terns to their former range through enhanced management and restoration of priority sites. 
  3. Improve understanding of key issues affecting roseate terns in north-west Europe and in wintering areas in west Africa.
  4. Develop and disseminate guidance and plans for the management of roseate tern breeding sites.
  5. Develop the international conservation strategy covering the whole north-west European population of the roseate tern.


Key Dates

  • October 2015: Start of the LIFE Project. 
  • May 2016: Coquet’s webcam goes live allowing public to watch the nesting terns between May and August
  • June 2016: Networking visit to the Netherlands to exchange knowledge about habitat creation in coastal habitats.
  • August 2016: Trial GPS study on tagging of Arctic terns on the Skerries.
  • March 2017: Revival of the International Roseate Tern Annual Newsletter
  • April 2017: Habitat creation in the Western Solent. 
  • June 2017: Deployment of geolocators on twenty roseate terns from Rockabill (Ireland) to find out about their migration routes.
  • July 2017: Networking visits between LIFE Project and Bretagne Vivante who manage their roseate tern colonies in France.
  • October 2017: Tern diet and sandeel ecology reports.
  • January 2018: Restoration of tern island at Cemlyn Bay (Anglesey).
  • March 2018: Roseate tern demography study reveals factors driving the population growth at Rockabill, Lady’s Island Lake and Coquet Island. 
  • April 2018: Placing a tern raft in Port Edgar Marina in the Firth of Forth (Scotland) 
  • May 2018: Report by Centre of African Wetlands on the status of illegal trapping at key wintering sites along Ghanaian coast.
  • June 2018: Networking visit to Azores.
  • July 2018: Boat tracking study of roseate tern foraging behaviour on Rockabill and deployment of geolocators on Coquet Island.
  • November 2018: Restoration of Blue Circle Island on Larne Lough (Northern Ireland).
  • March 2019: Best practice guidance for managing roseate tern colonies.
  • December 2019: International Conservation Strategy.
  • August 2020: International Seminar.
  • September 2020: End of LIFE Project.


The overall purpose of the project is to improve the conservation prospects of roseate terns in the UK and Ireland. Here is how we'll do it:
  • We continue to enhance breeding conditions at three core colonies - Rockabill and Lady’s Island Lake in Ireland, and Coquet Island in England - so we know they are safe and sound there.
  • We improve the breeding conditions for common, Arctic and Sandwich terns at the sites where roseate terns used to breed, to prepare them for re-colonisation (Ynys Feurig, Cemlyn Bay, the Skerries in Wales, Forth Islands in Scotland, Western Solent in Hampshire, Larne Lough in Northern Island and Dalkey Islands in Ireland). Roseate terns never breed on their own, so the larger the colonies of neighbouring tern species, the better.
  • We carry out research, to help us to understand how to manage this population (they move between colonies but it is actually one big ""family""); what is happening to their prey species (small fish such as sandeels and sprats); and how the terns utilise the seas around colonies, to learn how far they go for food, so we can provide adequate protection.
  • We then use the results of these studies to identify target areas for the potential future roseate tern range. These terns need protection against predators, which means it is likely that they will settle among the more aggressive common terns – at their largest colonies, and in places with good feeding.
  • The key to securing successful prospects for roseate terns on all of these sites is partnership working and networking. We draw up regional strategies, exchange knowledge and share best practice: not only between Ireland and the UK, but also with French, Azorean and American colony managers.
  • This collaboration will eventually lead to the development of the International Roseate Tern Action Plan. In some ways, it will be the beginning of a new chapter.
  • What about Africa? We work with the Centre for African Wetlands; to assess whether the trapping issue in Ghana is still a major problem for terns. For the first time, we have also attached small tracking devices (geolocators) to terns, which will tell us which routes they take and which sites are important for rosys during the migration and wintering period.



The project partners successfully applied to the EU LIFE Nature and Biodiversity fund, and throughout the Project's five years will be able to call on funds of €3.2m (£2.5m), 75 per cent funded by the European Union and 25 per cent funded from contributions by the partners. The Project also has a co-financer: Lafarge Tarmac Cement and Lime Limited.


Roseate tern feeding chicks

Roseate tern feeding chicks

Roseate tern and chicks


Improving the conservation prospects of the roseate tern throughout its range in the UK and Ireland

Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project Leaflet. PDF, 1Mb.


Coast on a stormy day

Daniel Piec

Roseate Tern Project Manager

Further reading

Tagged with: Country: England Country: International Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: UK Country: Wales Country: Republic Of Ireland Country: France Country: Ghana Country: Portugal Habitat: Marine and intertidal Species: Roseate tern Project status: Project types: Research Project types: Site protection