The UK’s rarest breeding seabird, the roseate tern, has enjoyed its most successful nesting season in the last 40 years on RSPB Coquet Island with 118 pairs raising chicks at the Northumberland site.
This beats the previous joint record of 111 pairs in 2015 and 2017 and tells the story of saving the species from a brink of extinction.
Roseate terns were once widespread with breeding colonies in each of the four UK countries. However, their population crashed a staggering 80% in the 1970s, when only 16 pairs were left on Coquet Island. Currently, this small island, off the Northumberland coast, is their only regular UK breeding colony
This breeding success at RSPB Coquet Island is owed to a programme of ongoing conservation work over the past 18 years on the island, aimed at reversing the fortunes of the threatened seabird.
Roseate terns (affectionately known as rosys) have elegant tail streamers and handsome, light, rose-coloured breast feathers.
Unlike other tern species, which nest in the open, roseate terns prefer to nest in crevices and small holes. For this reason, the RSPB introduced nest boxes on specially created shingle terraces in 2000 when the breeding population was only 34 pairs. This improved the birds’ chances of nesting and raising chicks by providing shelter against predators and bad weather.
The conservation efforts have been given a boost over the past three years through the EU-funded Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project. This initiative has provided over 200 new nest boxes, as well as a special hide, which enables wardens on the island to protect and monitor the nests.
The project has also funded live camera feeds in some of the nest boxes, which has helped RSPB conservation scientists to gain a greater insight in to the breeding behaviour of roseate terns.
Paul Morrison, Warden at RSPB Coquet Island, said: “For the past three years we’ve been consistently attracting more than a 100 pairs of roseate terns to the Island, who have fledged more than a 100 chicks each year. This is paving the way to building a larger breeding population, which will soon reach a point where birds are beginning to nest in places beyond Coquet Island. Ultimately, we’d love to see roseate terns that have been raised here, establishing new colonies around the UK.”
Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project Manager, Daniel Piec, said: “RSPB Coquet Island is the UK’s sole roseate tern colony and reaching 118 pairs for the first time since 1970 is fantastic news. The work undertaken through the RPSB with added support from LIFE project has been essential in saving this rare bird from extinction in the UK and giving them a rosy outlook for the future.”