More than 400 little tern chicks have fledged at Natural England’s Winterton Dunes National Nature Reserve, making it one of the best ever breeding seasons for these rare sea birds in Norfolk.

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The count of 410 fledglings – chicks that survived to fly the nest – was the third highest number in the 27 years that the RSPB and Natural England have been protecting little terns through partnership work at Winterton and Great Yarmouth.

Nature had a helping hand with wardens and volunteers from the RSPB and Natural England working round-the-clock to protect the rare birds from disturbance and predation.

The average number of chicks raised per breeding pair of adults was the highest on record, with a total of 197 adult pairs raising an average of 2.08 chicks per pair.

Danny Hercock, RSPB lead little tern warden, said: “It’s hugely rewarding to see so many young little terns flying their nests.

“After all the hardships they’ve suffered in recent years from storms, predators and disturbance, it’s fantastic to see little terns defying the odds and having a really good year.

“Considering the bad weather we had over the breeding season, this is a remarkable success story.”

Rick Southwood, Natural England’s Senior Reserves Manager, said: “We are all delighted by the success of the little terns this year. Things just seemed to work out for them.

“It’s been a great help having RSPB on site as partners, and everybody involved has worked really hard. We have high hopes for their future.”

Little tern numbers are declining across the UK and Europe, making this season’s success at Winterton a substantial boost for this rare species.

At other colony locations in the UK, little terns did not fare so well due to predation, disturbance, and storm surges.

On the east Norfolk coast, little terns also nested at Caister, Eccles, North Denes and Scroby Sands, but only small numbers fledged at these sites.

The protection scheme at Winterton Dunes National Nature Reserve is part of a wider project to protect little terns throughout the east Norfolk coast.

The scheme involves more than 50 volunteers from the RSPB and Natural England.

This was the first year that the RSPB and Natural England held night-time patrols at the Winterton Dunes colony to scare off predators.

In previous years 24-hour patrols have been carried out at North Denes colony in Great Yarmouth.

The patrols moved to Winterton this year after large numbers of little terns chose to nest there instead of North Denes.

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