Author: Emily Kench

One of the UK’s rarest seabirds, the little tern has suffered serious declines over the past 25 years. The tiny chattering birds travel a 6,000 mile round trip each year to breed on the beaches of the British Isles, but their numbers have been declining as they struggle to find safe beaches to nest and feed their young, free from predators and human disturbance.

The East Anglian coast is home to half of the UK's breeding population during the summer, with some of the largest colonies found in Norfolk. The birds arrive in April and May and return migration starts in August and continues into September. The RSPB is appealing for a group of dedicated volunteers to help protect little terns on the Norfolk coast this summer.

Photo: Dan Pacamo

Fabienne Fossez is an RSPB Little Tern Project Officer: “With over half of the UK breeding population making a home in East Anglia, little terns rely on our help here in the East. Our busy beaches are some of the best places left in the UK for little terns to raise their family each year. When nesting, these little birds are easily disturbed by people and vulnerable to predators such as crows and foxes. We are also seeing an increase in severe weather events on our coast which add to their troubles. Each year we recruit a team of volunteers to provide special protection for the birds on the east coast who help us to monitor the birds and help beach visitors understand how to make room for the birds during the crucial nesting and breeding season.” 

Photo: Chris Gomersall

Help little terns this summer

Every summer, a team of volunteer little tern wardens support the Little Tern Recovery Project by monitoring the beaches around Winterton-on-sea where these special birds make their homes.

Thanks to funding from the EU LIFE+ Nature Programme and the Norfolk Coast AONB Sustainable Development Fund, the Little Tern Recovery Project is helping to ensure that our little terns have a successful trip to the Norfolk coast, and return to West Africa with a new brood in September.

The team of volunteers will be stationed at the ‘Geodome’ located on Winterton beach. The structure has been funded by Norfolk Coast AONB Sustainable Development Fund and will provide a shelter from which volunteers can monitor the little tern colony, and a hub for beach visitors to find out more about the special species.

Roger Potter is a volunteer little tern warden at Winterton-on-sea: “I’ve been wardening for seven years now, seeing my first chick at the colony in 2010 had me hooked! Little terns are my favourite sea bird, they are real characters and beautiful to watch as they fish just twenty yards off shore. I’m a really sociable person and love spending my days at the beach talking to visitors about little terns and how we can all make sure we look after them as they build their nests and raise their young on our beaches.”

Photo: Durzan cirano

Volunteering at a little tern colony provides an opportunity to meet new people and be part of a small team working on some of the most beautiful beaches in the east. You can learn more about bird ecology and witness the drama of an active tern colony, following these endearing birds as they raise their young from tiny bundles of fluff to intrepid fledglings before they fly back to West Africa for the winter.

No specific skills are required, as all training will be provided. Some walking is necessary at some colonies, as is working outdoors in all weather conditions. The project is currently looking for volunteers to help at RSPB and Natural England east Norfolk sites in and around Great Yarmouth and Winterton-on-sea.

If you’d like to help protect this wonderful seabird, please get in touch: email or call 01603 715191.

Find out more about the role description here.