Winterton-on-Sea officially home to largest colony of little terns in UK

PUBLISHED: 13:17 01 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:17 01 July 2014

A little tern sat on a nest in Winterton. Picture by Chris Gomersall.

A little tern sat on a nest in Winterton. Picture by Chris Gomersall.


A peaceful Norfolk beach is officially home to the largest UK colony of a rare seabird.

The area where the Little Tern colony is on the beach at Winterton.
Picture: James Bass

The area where the Little Tern colony is on the beach at Winterton. Picture: James Bass

The Norfolk coastline is a UK strongholds for breeding little terns - with 30 percent of the bird’s national population returning to our shoreline each summer to breed, it is Winterton-on-Sea that is proving a key nesting site.

The RSPB said the beach is now home to over 300 breeding pairs, up 100 pairs on last year, making Winterton the largest single colony of little tern in the UK.

The Yarmouth coastline regularly attracts 350 pairs of little terns nesting among five colonies; North Denes in Yarmouth used to be the biggest little tern colony in the country until 2010 when the site was abandoned.

News that Winterton is now a top spot for the tiny black and white birds was welcomed by RSPB Little Tern Warden for Norfolk Danny Hercock, who last summer spent weeks on the quiet beach monitoring the birds and explaining the passers-by the importance of keeping a distance.

The Little Tern colony on the beach at Winterton.
Picture: James Bass

The Little Tern colony on the beach at Winterton. Picture: James Bass

Mr Hercock said: “Each summer, little terns face a number of threats from predators, dogs and human disturbance.

“Even toy kites, which can appear as large birds-of-prey, can cause these flighty birds to leave their nest and abandon their colony.

“This is a crucial time for them, so we are working hard to ensure that these birds have a fighting chance in 2014, and it seem to be working.

“The new EU Life + funding have allowed the RSPB to appoint a lead little tern warden to manage a team of three staff and a host of volunteers who will be carrying out 24 hour monitoring and protection for the main Winterton Dunes colony.

Little terns

The national population of little terns currently stands at just 1,900 breeding pairs each year.

With such low populations across the UK, the rare chattering seabird is a species of increasing national conservation concern.

The birds can travel over 11,000 miles each year, flying from their winter homes in West Africa in May each year to spend summer on a select few locations on the UK coast. And with some individuals living around 14 years, these little birds could have covered over 100,000 miles in that time.

They are usually in the UK from mid-April to September.

Their social nesting colonies are formed on sand and shingle beaches that offer good visibility for predator detection.

Their diet consists of small fish and invertebrates collected from feeding areas not more than 3-4km from the breeding site.

“ We have also been able to erect new ‘flying fences’ which can be put up very quickly along the East Norfolk coast to protect new nesting sites as they emerge.

“Alongside this, our team are delivering a programme of public events including talks and guided walks at the site, which help the public understand how to support little terns as they raise their young on the Norfolk coast each summer.”

Last year, the RSPB and Natural England were able to better protect the vulnerable sea birds from predators and human disturbance thanks to funding from the European Commission’s Life + programme.

The tern colony currently at Winterton is being monitored daily by the RSPB’s Little Tern team, supported by volunteers.

Every day these wardens are down at the beach, talking to dog owners, asking them to put dogs on leads, and making sure that beach-users give the little terns their space to incubate their eggs, and fish for herring and sand eels to feed their young.

Wardens can be found at Winterton talking to members of the public on the busiest times of the day, usually from 8am until 1pm, and especially the weekend when people flock down to one of Norfolk’s most popular beaches.

“If you’d like to see little terns, we would urge the public to visit the Winterton Dunes colony, where we will have a watch point so that people can see the birds without disturbing them,” added Mr Hercock.

“Elsewhere, we are appealing to local communities and beachgoers to give little terns space to breed safely and in peace.”

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