Delight as rare tern breeds on Suffolk coast for first time in 40 years

A sandwich tern pair feeding a chick on the nest - the birds have bred at Minsmere for the first tim

A sandwich tern pair feeding a chick on the nest - the birds have bred at Minsmere for the first time since 1978. Picture: CHRIS GOMERSALL - Credit: Chris Gomersall (

One of Suffolk's rarest breeding birds, the Sandwich tern, has bred successfully this year at the RSPB's Minsmere nature reserve for the first time in almost 40 years.

Sandwich tern in flight. Picture: JON EVANS

Sandwich tern in flight. Picture: JON EVANS - Credit: Archant

Before the 1970s, a large colony of the birds nested on the reserve's famous 'Scrape' – a shallow manmade lagoon dotted with islands – but since 1978 they have only tried to nest occasionally and without success, until now.

Reserve managers report that this year, seven pairs of Sandwich terns settled to breed on the East Scrape, successfully rearing four chicks so far.

They are thought to be the only Sandwich terns to breed in Suffolk this year.

RSPB Minsmere site manager Robin Harvey said: 'The success of the Sandwich terns is great news and an indication that our careful management of the Scrape is to their liking.

'Hopefully this is just the start and we'll see more pairs breeding here in years to come.

'It's not just the terns that are having a good year either as we've had a record breeding season for Mediterranean gulls at Minsmere, with at least 28 chicks fledged from 35 nests.

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'With black-headed gulls and common terns also nesting on the Scrape there are lots of young seabirds to see on the reserve this year.

'This good year for gulls and terns is especially encouraging seeing as seabirds collectively are the one of the most threatened groups of birds globally.

'It's great to know that here at Minsmere we are helping to maintain the populations of these vulnerable birds.'

Terns are a family of migratory seabirds that are mostly smaller and more streamlined and aerodynamic looking than most gulls.

The Sandwich tern – their name comes from Sandwich in Kent, where the first scientific description of a specimen was made by ornithologist John Latham in 1787 – is a very white 'sea tern' with a black cap and bill with a yellow tip, which distinguish it from other terns.

It feeds mainly on sandeels and small fish, and many of its surviving UK breeding colonies are on nature reserves.

Norfolk is home to the UK's largest Sandwich tern population, with approximately 3,500 pairs – around a quarter of the country's total breeding population – nesting on the North Norfolk coast each year.