Beauty and the beast: the problems for the Little Tern.
The two-day tour of the Essex coast was primarily to look at the fortunes of the Little Tern. By the time we had finished, and understood the problems, we were all a little sterner. Little Terns have not been doing well recently; in Essex or further afield in the south-east. They suffer from disturbance by humans, competition from gulls and flooding from high tides. And everything seems to like to eat them; from Foxes, Stoats and Hedgehogs, to Kestrels and owls. Much of this comes down to an increasing lack of safe nesting sites on our over-crowded coastlines.
Whilst the beaches clearly have disturbance issues, the Essex coast has many small saltmarsh islands amongst its estuaries and creeks. We found 3,500+ pairs of Black-headed Gull, 100+ pairs of Herring Gull, 56 pairs of Common Tern, 30+ pairs of Oystercatcher and 8 pairs of Ringed Plover. More surprisingly, a total of 29 Mediterranean Gulls were noted, including at least 6 on nests. Little Terns amounted to 41 nesting pairs, with 20 or so additional birds.
The islands perhaps provide an answer for the Little Terns. Many of the nesting pairs are on areas of dumped dredging or shellfish remains. The saltmarsh islands are not attractive nor very accessible to people or ground predators. A partnership with harbourmasters and fishery interests might bring about the regular recharging of small areas of suitable nesting habitat for the terns.Elsewhere in East Anglia, news is of mixed fortunes for Little Terns, with the usual problems of flooding out and predation. However, up to 200 pairs near Winterton is excellent and North Norfolk may still have 400 active nests. A spell of calm weather might be helpful!