Our goals

How we will save the Little Tern

Little Terns arrive back on UK shores in April and May, where they breed on sand and shingle beaches, spits or inshore islets. This delightful chattering seabird, with its distinctive yellow beak is suffering from the effects of climate change and human disturbance, resulting in it becoming one of the UK’s rarest breeding seabirds.


Protection of little terns and their nests and eggs from threats such as disturbance and predators.

Increase numbers of little terns across the Project sites through enhanced management of existing breeding sites and restoration and creation of new or recently abandoned sites.


Monitoring using standardised recording across sites to measure the success of the breeding attempts and feed this back to help inform each successive annual summer work programme.


Improve the understanding of little tern numbers and movements by undertaking a colour ringing programme to inform long-term conservation strategies.

Local communities and other interested parties will learn about the struggles of this scarce seabird, helping to raise support for the work at the UK sites.

Build up our knowledge and best practice case studies by increased networking with other relevant projects in the UK, Europe and North America.


Work with statutory agencies and local authorities to find ways to support little tern conservation and extend the protection measures when appropriate.

Since the 1970's, wardens have supervised many colonies, which has substantially reduced human disturbance, but more work needs to be done as numbers are still declining.

The five-year EU LIFE+ Nature Little Tern Recovery Project has now ended. It's prime objectives, however, are still relevant as we continue the conservation work:

  • Enhanced management and habitat restoration/creation carried out over 26 sites identified as containing important UK colonies. These sites were all located within Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which form part of the Natura 2000 network of sites designated for their international European importance for wildlife. SPAs are classified under the EU Birds Directive helping protect and manage areas that are important for rare and vulnerable birds.
  • Keeping people informed of the conservation issues facing Little Terns, particularly within the local communities close to the current and potential sites. This will also ensure that there is action on engagement with statutory agencies, local authorities and policymakers in government ensuring that long-term conservation plans can work successfully to support Little Terns into the future.
  • A UK Little Tern Species Recovery Plan was produced from information gathered and lessons learned during its lifetime. We believe that by working together with the local communities, beach users, the Project partners and other organisations we can ensure that this little seabird will remain a regular summer inhabitant along our shores for us all to enjoy.

Here is a snapshot of the key successes achieved during the LIFE Project:

  • The LIFE Project recruited more than 60 seasonal wardens and project officers over the five years who monitored and protected nesting terns on our beaches.
  • The Project was supported by 250 volunteers, who did vital work at tern colonies. These highly motivate volunteers made a real difference during the Project and their hard-working efforts will continue even though the funding has now ended.
  • Fencing and other equipment were installed or upgraded at 88% of the colonies. This was essential to exclude mammalian predators which can destroy many eggs and nests in a single night.
  • 13 sites employed tern decoys. These attract Little Terns to ‘safer’ nesting areas, and we have even observed an adult male trying to feed a decoy in a courtship display.
  • 14 sites employed measures to deal with tidal flooding. Some of these measures included moving or raising the nests, which although are vital short-term measures, they are not sustainable in the long-term.
  • Five sites were created or restored which provided new nesting habitat.
  • Management of predation was trialled and deployed. This included diversionary feeding of foxes and kestrels and a two-year laser hazing study at six sites, aimed at displacing crows and large gulls, that could take eggs and young chicks.
  • 60% of beach visitors recognised that human disturbance was one of the main factors affecting nesting Little Terns. The survey of beach visitors, undertaken at eight sites, showed that over 90% were very or fairly positive about little tern protection at their beach.
  • In the new ringing programme, coded-colour rings were fitted to more than 100 adult terns and 350 large chicks.
  • Results indicate a slowing of the population decline over the five years of at the Project sites and throw-thirds had improved productivity.

The EU LIFE+ Project

During the project...

adults ringed
chicks ringed
ringing sites
project sites in the UK

The partnership

Working together for Little terns since 2013

The project partners have successfully worked together during the LIFE Project to share experience, take part in different conservation trials and learn from visiting each others sites. After the LIFE funding the partners will direct the work of a UK steering group to guide the long-term conservation of the little terns from 2019-2030.

Our funding

Making the recovery programme possible

The project partners successfully applied to the EU LIFE+ Nature fund, and between 2013 and 2018 will be able to call on funds of €3.2m (£2.5m), 50 per cent generously funded by the European Union and 50 per cent funded from contributions by the partners.

LIFE and Natura 2000 logos

Get in touch

We'd love to hear from you

If you have a query about the project and would like to speak with someone, please get in touch with the following project staff:

Chantal Macleod-Nolan

Little Tern Project Officer


Paul Davis (website enquires)

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