The little tern has just enjoyed its most successful season in almost 30 years

The little tern has been in serious decline, but 2019 has seen a welcome boost for the species.

Things are looking up for the UK’s second rarest seabird, the little tern, thanks to work to protect its nesting site.

The threatened species has been in serious decline since the 1980s, with fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs left in Britain, but 2019 has been recorded as its most successful season in almost 30 years.

This summer, 54 fledglings left the National Trust’s Long Nanny site in Northumberland to start their migration to West Africa. This is particularly welcome news after birds were forced to abandon their nests in the aftermath of last year’s Storm Hector.

The boost for the little tern has been attributed to the work of National Trust rangers who camped out for three months to protect their nesting site. The seabird also benefitted from spells of favourable weather conditions.

Since 7 May, five rangers stayed next to the breeding site, enduring high winds, torrential rain and record-breaking heat to conduct a round-the-clock watch on the birds.

Predators were kept at bay thanks to a thermal scope which detected intruders, such as foxes, peregrine falcons, crows and gulls. Rangers then scared off the animals with a torch or shouted and waved their arms.

Ranger tents at Long Nanny. Credit: Mike Ridley

‘We’ve had a fantastic year for little terns,’ said Fey Young, assistant ranger at Long Nanny. ‘From keeping predators at bay to dealing with high tides, we have protected the site night and day for almost three months.

‘We’re extremely proud to have such a high number of fledglings and hope to see them again in a few years when they return to breed.’

34 breeding pairs were counted this year at the Long Nanny site, giving a productivity of 1.59 chicks per pair the highest ratio since 1985.

Results were positive too at Blakeney Point breeding site in Norfolk, where rangers reported a higher than average productivity of 0.69.

Little tern fledglings. Credit: National Trust Images/David Woodall

Little terns are on the British Trust for Ornithology’s Birds of Conservation Concern amber list. The diminutive seabird measures less than 25cm in length and feeds mostly on sand eels and young herring.

The species tends to lay one to three camouflaged eggs on the beach, often close to the high water mark.

The Long Nanny shorebird site at Beadnell Bay has been protected by the National Trust for the last 42 years.  The organisation will release a full report of all the breeding birds at the site at the end of the year.