2020 saw a huge number of threatened seabirds successfully breed along England’s south coast.
The success of these breeding birds is a result of the hard work of RSPB staff and volunteers to provide and protect suitable habitats, despite challenges from Covid-19 restrictions.
RSPB Pagham Harbour, in west Sussex, saw a record 164 sandwich tern chicks last year. Sandwich terns breed around the UK coast in summer, but they nest directly on the ground which puts them at a higher risk of predation, human disturbance and flooding. Because of this they rely almost entirely on nature reserves. In 2012 the RSPB took on the management of West Sussex County Council’s Pagham Harbour nature reserve and have been carrying out work to protect these birds ever since. Creation of shingle habitat and protective fencing on ‘tern island’, made for the ideal nesting sites for these seabirds and led to a boom in their numbers.
One of UK’s rarest breeding seabirds, the little tern, also had remarkable breeding success in the south last year. Little terns also nest on beaches and are recognised by their small size and distinctive black beak with a yellow tip. As last year saw some of the highest tides recorded, and with a spike in visitors after the easing of lockdown, the terns faced a series of challenges. A team of staff and volunteers installed fencing and signage, and patrolled the nesting sites, to make sure parents and chicks had the space they needed to thrive. Thanks to their efforts 15 little tern chicks arrived - the best result in over four years. This success continued along the coast at Chesil beach, in Dorset, where similar work (funded by Portland Court Leet, the Environment Agency and Dorset Council) led to the largest number of breeding pairs since work began in 2009, and resulted in the arrival of over 30 little tern chicks.