CHESIL Beach's little terns have had a record breaking year thanks to work by volunteers.

The RSPB says the colony has had its most successful year since records began, building on the prior success of the partnership project.

The rare seabird’s numbers are increasing and the chicks which made it to fledging saw a significant rise this season.

Following serious decline in breeding pairs of little terns on Chesil Beach, a group of conservationists decided something must be done. The Chesil Beach little tern project is a partnership between the RSPB, Chesil and Fleet Nature Reserve, the Crown Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Natural England, EU PANACHE Interreg Project and the Portland Court Leet. The project is now in its sixth year and rewards for the hard work are becoming evident.

Thirty three pairs of little terns occupied the colony on Chesil Beach this year and as many as 60 chicks made it to fledging: an all-time record for the colony and a testament to the perseverance and commitment of the team who watch over the terns.

The RSPB-led warden team relies heavily on volunteers to assist in protecting the terns from a variety of potential dangers.

RSPB Project officer Morgan Vaughan said: “The commitment and dedication of our volunteer warden team has never ceased to amaze me. Local people want to see their little terns succeed and this translated into well over 1200 volunteering hours given this year”.

Volunteer warden Ron Curtis said: “It is very rewarding in knowing that I have been part of such a fantastic breeding season which leaves a very good feeling – I think that the reason I volunteer to help on the project is that I have been interested in bird watching for many years and the fact I only live half a mile away from the tern colony has given me a great opportunity to be part of the most successful year so far.”

Don Moxom from the Chesil and Fleet Nature reserve also added: “It is such a wonderful boost to all the people around here to know the terns are doing well after struggling for a time – a morale boost for everyone”.

Emily Brown, the Manager of the Chesil Beach Centre for Dorset Wildlife Trust said: "Staff, volunteers and visitors to the Chesil Beach centre have really enjoyed watching the Little Tern project develop, and were delighted with the successful hatching numbers this year. They are certainly a favourite with visitors to the centre and Dorset Wildlife Trust is very pleased to support this fantastic project."

The little terns migrate from the West African coast to breed in Britain but are threatened by a number of factors such habitat loss, rising sea levels and predation. They are also very susceptible to changing weather conditions which can have a noted impact on breeding success.

As they are the only colony of little terns in the South West of England, helping guarantee the security of the Chesil breeding site through the project, which includes electric fencing, makes all the difference in fledging success for the little tern, one of the UK’s rarest seabirds.

The major factor in the terns’ success has been the implementation of round the clock warden patrols. This is vital to minimize disturbance from predators and people who unwittingly might stray too close to these ground nesting birds.

Securing funding for forthcoming years will now be the next hurdle in order to ensure a continuing bright future for the only little tern colony in the South West.