Blakeney Point reserve has record breaking season for little terns

Colony of Sandwich terns, Sterna sandvicensis, with breeding adults and juveniles on a gravel bank,

Colony of Sandwich terns, Sterna sandvicensis, with breeding adults and juveniles on a gravel bank, Blakeney - Credit: ©National Trust Images / Ian Ward

Clay decoys, few predators and a stroke of luck have helped a little tern colony in North Norfolk record its most successful breeding season in more than 25 years.

Conservationists at Blakeney Point are rejoicing after nesting pairs of little terns successfully fledged more than 200 chicks.

The figure makes the 2020 breeding season the most successful since 1994 and heralds a welcome boost for the seabird which has been in serious decline since the 1980s.

A little tern chick at Blakeney Point

Little tern chick - Credit: ©National Trust Images/Leighton Newman

Blakeney Point is a four-mile shingle spit off the north Norfolk coast cared for by the National Trust.

The site is a key breeding ground for three types of tern, Litte, Sandwich and Common.


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Rangers counted 154 pairs of little terns nesting over the summer months and 201 chicks.

Common terns also had a successful year, with 289 pairs fledging at least 170 chicks, the most since 1999.

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Sandwich terns were late arrivals but turned out in high numbers, almost triple that of the previous year.

Sandwich tern, Sterna sandvicensis, with sand eel, in flight over Blakeney

Sandwich tern, Sterna sandvicensis, with sand eel, in flight over Blakeney - Credit: ©National Trust Images / Ian War

Chris Bielby, National Trust countryside manager, said: "Little terns have been rapidly declining in the UK for the past few decades, so it’s particularly rewarding to see so many of these tiny seabirds fledging the nest.

“The species is still very much at risk and we’ll need to keep up our efforts to make sure they have safe places to breed. But for now, it’s good to be able to celebrate a successful season given what a challenging year 2020 has been.”

Little Tern, in flight, carrying a fish

Little Tern, in flight, carrying a fish - Credit: ©National Trust Images / Andrew

Terns arrive at Blakeney in the spring, having completed an epic migration from Africa.

The birds are usually looked after by a team of rangers and volunteers who camp out in a lifeboat house to provide a 24-hour watch. But coronavirus restrictions meant rather than camp, rangers had to make daily trips to the shingle ridge to protect the colonies.

The weather also proved to be a challenge. High tides in June were exacerbated by strong onshore winds which flooded many of the nests. A fortuitous lack of predators and disturbances from people also contributed to a bumper year.

Rangers also used clay decoys to encourage the birds to nest in suitable areas.

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