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Please do not disturb the terns! RSPB Scotland makes plea on behalf of breeding seabirds in Cromarty Firth

Last modified: 14 July 2015

Arctic tern sitting on nest in grass

Image: Chris Gomersall

RSPB Scotland has issued a plea to day-trippers and dog-walkers to take care when they are visiting the coast to look out for breeding terns. The conservation charity is concerned that visitors may inadvertently disturb the birds from their nests and prevent them breeding successfully.

RSPB conservation officer Lorna Macdonald explained, “Sandy shores and shingle beaches can provide important breeding habitat for seabirds, and in these locations you may find nesting terns in the Cromarty and Moray Firths.  The Cromarty Firth is particularly important with colonies of both Arctic and common terns.

“Breeding in such locations is not without difficulties and the pressures affecting ground-nesting birds include high tides and predation.  Given the accessibility of these areas, human disturbance has become an increasing problem.  As anyone who has accidentally walked through a tern colony will know, the parent birds can be extremely aggressive when protecting their nests and young.  However, these displays are no match for continual disturbance, and such disruption can lead to abandonment of a site and breeding failure.”

In an attempt to address this issue, signs have been erected by RSPB staff and volunteers to raise awareness at locations around the Cromarty Firth of the presence of Arctic terns. 

Miss Macdonald added, “We hope this may help to reduce the pressure of disturbance, giving the birds a better chance of raising chicks.  Arctic terns are amazing birds and make an annual roundtrip journey of up to 44,000 miles, the longest bird migration of any species.  The birds return to the UK around March/April, and although this year Arctic terns were seen at sites around the Moray Firth early on, the majority of the breeding attempts appear to be late in the season.

“This may be due to the colder than usual weather this spring, and the count of nesting pairs so far this year is far lower than that of 2014.  If you are planning a walk along any beach in the next few weeks, please be aware that there may be ground nesting birds in the area.  To cause minimal disturbance please avoid breeding colonies as much as possible, and keep dogs on a lead or under close control, and hopefully we can all do our bit to ensure a productive breeding season!”

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