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Fake birds used to boost seabird population

Last modified: 11 March 2015

Langstone Harbour Decoy

One of the locally crafted little tern models, Image by Sue Rendell-Read

Image: RSPB - Wez Smith

Fifteen-hundred tons of shingle, eight tons of crushed cockleshells, £160,000 from funders and dozens of locally made, hand-painted models of little terns are the key elements underpinning efforts to reverse a decline of the threatened seabirds’ population in Hampshire.

The islands of Langstone Harbour on the Solent are home to one of the UK’s most important breeding colonies of little terns. These small, shingle-nesting seabirds travel 6,000 miles from Western Africa and back each year to breed in the harbour and raise their young on the areas rich supply of sand eels and other small fish.

Their nesting sites are susceptible to failuredue to: increased storm surges in a more erratic climate; predation; human disturbance; and fluctuations in food supply.

The breeding little tern population in southeast England has declined 86% over the last 30 years; Langstone Harbour's little tern population has crashed from 171 to 31 pairs in the same period.

Our response has been to restore and create suitable, safe nesting sites which we can protect from predators. The task ahead is to attract returning little terns to these sites and do all we can to prevent them from being disturbed. None of this work would be possible without funding from a number of organisations: Interreg Iva, The Heritage Lottery Fund, Veolia Environmental Trust, the John Young Trust, Boskalis Westminster & the Torrs Charitable Trust.

RSPB Site Manager Wez Smith says: “We owe a lot to our volunteers, partners and funders who’ve helped shovel shingle, crush and lay cockle shells, paint the decoy terns and clear vegetation to prepare the perfect conditions for little-terns to start breeding here. Just before the birds begin to arrive in mid April, we’ll be busy putting out model terns and playing recordings of their calls to draw the real ones in to the site. Our work’s not done there though. Over the breeding season we’ll be monitoring the nesting sites on a continual basis, both via boat and camera, in an effort to head off any unnatural problems. Meanwhile, we’ll also be busy working with the local community to let everyone know about the amazing wildlife on their doorstep and how they can help give these threatened birds a continued home here in Langstone Harbour.” 

How you can help

Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by giving nature a home where we live.

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