December 13 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, August 24, 2013
For several months of the year they attract scores of nature lovers to our coast who watch from afar as they make a home among the shingle to raise their young.
But Norfolk’s colonies of Little Terns are under threat from the country’s shifting coastline, brought about by erosion and climate change, and in the coming decades their numbers could be seriously affected.
The worrying prediction comes from the National Trust who have put together a list of six coastal “canaries in the mine” which are particularly under threat from coastal extremes - and the Little Tern tops the bill.
The charity has warned sea levels will rise in the next century, which will have an immense impact on UK shores, and coupled with increasingly extreme weather, coastal wildlife is set to face huge turmoil.
Matthew Oates, the Trust’s national specialist on nature and wildlife, said: “Climate change could change the face of our coastal flora and fauna. With rising sea levels, our rich mud flats could simply disappear.
“Wildlife which relies on the gradual erosion of soft rock cliffs or lives on loose sand and shingle habitats could be caught out by an increasingly mobile landscape as a result of extremes in weather.
“We are likely to see the boom and bust of more specialist plants and animals, as they suffer from increased flooding, salt deposition or drought stress. Unfortunately there may be more bust than boom.”
The black and white Little Terns annually raise their fledgling chicks along Norfolk’s coastline and one of their most well-known colonies is at Blakeney Point, where a group of Trust rangers keep an eye on their activity when they swoop in from late April to early August.
But despite the charity’s best efforts to protect the rare birds, experts have not been able to save them from exceptional high tides and summer storms.
Ranger Ajay Tegala said: “We have had 113 pairs this year and they did suffer from high tides with getting flooded out.
“We did lose a few nests, about 20pc due to big tides. That has happened in previous years and we’re worried that may be an increasing problem in the future as well.
“There will be big tides, but if you combine that with stormy weather that’s increasing the pressure on the Little Terns.”
Mr Tegala said the birds, which are one of the most protected in the country, like to nest on the water line and return to the same spot each year.
And although he and his team cannot protect them from the changing weather and coast, they already fence off the four colonies from public during the breeding season and are planning more work to safeguard them from other elements.
Through a partnership with the RSPB, the Trust has been awarded thousands of pounds of EU funds to carry out more research into the birds, to further protect them.
And there is good news for the winged visitors further east as beaches at beauty spots such as Winterton are slowly growing, affording them more protection.
Danny Hercock is a Little Tern warden at five colonies on the east coast stretching from Eccles to North Denes in Great Yarmouth.
He said: “They’re doing quite well. We had a bumper year (at Winterton) and fledged 328 young from 200 pairs. The other colonies along the coast have suffered with flooding in the past but in the last couple of years there’s been very little flooding and erosion.
“It’s all looking quite positive on the east coast.”
Despite this, however he said rising sea levels were a “big concern”.
Mr Hercock added: “If we do see a significant rise, even with an encroaching beach, we’re still going to see flooding and coastal nesting birds being washed away, particularly if tides coincide with storms.”