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Tern hovering

The Terns have arrived in the Solent and the RSPB Roseate Tern Project is in full swing.

As the Solent’s overwintering birds have migrated north (see more in our news articles from 24th Feb and 29th March) the Bird Aware Solent rangers work quietens for another winter season, and our summer work programme begins. But as things become calmer for us they get very busy indeed for rangers and wardens at partner organisations like the RSPB.

In October 2015, the RSPB started a major EU LIFE-funded project for the conservation of Roseate Tern in the UK and Ireland. Sadly Roseate Terns no longer breed on the Solent but other Terns do including: Little Tern, Common Tern and Sandwich Tern. Take a look at our recent news article for a brief introduction to this beautiful group of birds. Roseate Terns did once breed on the Solent and by improving habitats and raising awareness the RSPB’s aim is to increase the breeding success for all Terns and to see the Roseate Tern return here to breed.

Terns choose the Solent for its rich food supply and suitable habitat. They lay their eggs on bare shingle often choosing small islands and islets as they offer a relatively safe area undisturbed by people or ground predators. However, there are a number of hazards associated with nesting on the ground, which means they are very much in need of a helping hand from the RSPB!

The biggest problem is the amount of available, safe nesting habitat. In the past 60 years, the amount of coastal shingle habitat in the UK has declined by 46%. Another big problem is the sea! They nest close to the water so are vulnerable to flooding caused by unseasonal storms and tide surges. Just like our overwintering coastal birds, our breeding birds are also at risk from disturbance by people. When disturbed breeding birds may be prevented from settling, or if already nesting may fly away from their nests, neglecting their eggs or chicks. This can result in a number of problems such as the adult birds failing to nest in the first place, eggs failing to hatch, chicks dying from cold or lack of food, or nests becoming vulnerable to predators. Lastly, as they lay their eggs on bare shingle they are at risk from trampling. People may unintentionally trample on a nest, either crushing the eggs or the chicks. This may seem surprising as you may expect to notice that you are walking through a bird’s nest! However, given that these birds’ main defence strategy is camouflage it isn’t as surprising as you might first expect.

The wardens at the RSPB work hard to improve the fortunes of the Terns through habitat improvement, placement of rafts as alternative nesting sites and more generally through education and awareness raising. You can help by following instructions and signs around the Solent. If you are going out on the water contact the Local Harbour Authority for guidance about where you can enjoy watersports safely without disturbing wildlife.

Sandwich, Common and Little Terns have started arriving in the Solent this year but the numbers are lower than they would expect compared to previous seasons. Over the breeding season we will keep you posted with the progress of the Terns and the RSPB Warderns that are protecting them. So check back on our news pages soon.

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