Making space for terns

© Kevin Crisp

It's been a busy few months creating suitable habitat in the Solent ahead of the terns' nesting season

I tried to title this post with a witty play on the word tern.. terning the tide, terning up the heat but they all sounded rubbish so I kept it basic. We’ve been making space for terns, simple as that.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks! If I see another bag of shingle, I may pass out! We have been very busy lugging it around and doing some management work to improve potential nest sites for terns across our sites.

Terns, mainly common and sandwich but also little and roseate nest, or used to nest, in the Solent area. There are still a number of colonies such as the ones on the islands off of Farlington Marshes. When you look at these colonies in the height of the breeding season with hundreds of screaming sea birds you would be forgiven to think that they are doing very well.

Unfortunately there are some underlying issues resulting in the decline in all tern species in the Solent. Productivity, (the number of chicks produced each year) is not at a sustainable level. Basically they are not producing enough baby terns to keep the population going.

Now, this is down to a lot of issues; over fishing, pollution, irregular weather and lack of suitable nesting space. Well, I can’t do much about most of these but I can provide some space and that is what we have been doing!

Volunteers working to create habitat for terns

© Chris Lycett

It all starts with Pewit…

I’ve mentioned this little island in a blog post before. It is a reasonable sized island in Portsmouth Harbour and provides a significant opportunity for a serious seabird colony. It needed some work though.

We went over in the autumn and removed all the gorse that had grown up. Wednesday was spent in the sunshine, moving gravel out and improving the existing shingle banks, creating perfect conditions for terns.

We moved 40 bags of gravel out to spread on a higher area, well out of the way of any surge tides. For the effort involved in taking it out, it went a depressingly short way! At one point I moved 20 bags from the truck 20 metres to the beach and then onto a boat, at a run because the tide was going out.  It was a crazy day and a beer and a lie down was needed in the evening!

It will require more work in the future to get it into really good condition but I am very excited about the potential for this site. There are a whole bunch of issues we will need to overcome. Getting there is a mission in itself, requiring good tides and a boat. (Thanks to Wez from the RSPB for shipping us over.)

There are signs that foxes have been out there which will stop a seabird colony in its tracks. As will people visiting the island. There is no access allowed and to give the birds a chance, I hope people will accept this. If we can keep it predator free with no disturbance there is no reason the seabirds shouldn’t set up out there and prosper.

Farlingon….platforms and islands

We have predator proofed two small islands within the deeps. These are good roost sites but with a little work could harbour a small seabird colony. Predation is a tricky one here as foxes regularly patrol the marsh. The solution was to put a fence around it but within the water, banking on a fox not wanting to swim over and climb/squeeze through. It won’t stop avian predators but that is a whole other issue.

Predator-proof Islands at Farlington Marshes

© Chris Lycett

The overall aim is to shingle the both islands completely but given time constraints and the sheer amount of effort that we have already put into these projects, we couldn’t face moving more out. I aim to get that done in the Autumn when the breeding birds in the surrounding area are finished and not being disturbed by our presence on the marsh.

The shingle that we have used is fine 10mm shingle mixed with sand, hopefully giving the perfect conditions for terns, who tend to like the finer substrates on the beach, especially little tern, hence why they often nest on the strand line.

We have also started putting out some raised platforms, two in the upper stream and one in The Deeps. This is because  these are the two areas that don’t try out in summer.  They are only small but hopefully they will work for a small number of terns. It’s worth a go. The one in the deeps is larger and offers the most promise but I have seen very small ones work on other sites nearby, so fingers crossed

There are a couple of other plans in the  pipeline as well, a raft etc. on different sites but that still needs some work. Fingers crossed for a successful breeding season!

All in all, it’s worth a go. I’ve no idea if any of these plans will come to fruition but any space that can be provided is an opportunity that should be taken, especially given the dramatic decline of these species. Also, how cool would it be if Little Tern nested on one of these platforms!