A MAJOR rise in the number of little tern chicks on Chesil Beach has been reported.

Throughout the year, more than 45 chicks were fledged on the beach at Weymouth, a major rise after just three fledglings two years ago.

The Chesil Little Tern Recovery Project partnered with local charity Hedgehog Friendly Portland to construct a hedgehog protection fence to protect both hedgehogs and little tern eggs.

Little terns are one of the smallest and most threatened seabirds in the UK, and the Chesil Beach colony is the last in the south west.

The birds weigh no more than a tennis ball and the population has been declining since the 1980s.

The seabirds face multiple pressures in the UK, including coastal flooding exacerbated by climate change and rising sea levels, declining food availability, disturbance from people, dogs, and predators.

There were concerns at the beginning of the season when the colony experienced a high number of nest failures, but they later recovered meaning that the fledgling count remained high.

Conservationists from the RSPB and its partners hope this change in numbers will lead to growth within the breeding colony when the fledglings mature into adulthood and join the other breeding pairs.

The success of the colony depends upon a team of dedicated volunteers who work around the clock to help protect each year’s chicks as part of the Chesil Little Tern Recovery Project.

The project is led by the RSPB, in partnership with Crown Estate, Portland Court Leet, Chesil and Fleet Nature Reserve, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Natural England.

Some changes and developments in the behaviour of wildlife previously predated the Chesil little tern colony.

Tara Watson, of the Chesil Little Tern Recovery Project, said: “Our trail camera monitoring gave us some interesting insights on nesting behaviour and helped us build a picture of how predators, such as foxes and hedgehogs, interact with the colony.

“It’s been great to share this footage for everyone to see how special and sensitive beach-nesting birds are,” she added.

Richard Archer, RSPB Conservation Officer, said: “The protection of the little tern colony on Chesil Beach takes a huge amount of time and effort.

"This is because there simply isn’t enough undisturbed coastal habitat for the species in the UK anymore. Little tern colonies such as this one, are very vulnerable and we need to make more space on the coast for little terns and other sensitive species to thrive once more.

“The RSPB is working with partners to do this, on our own nature reserves and elsewhere. This is the only sustainable solution for the long-term survival and growth of our special seabirds,” he added.

Whilst not being seen as a major threat to the seabirds, hedgehogs were captured on camera searching for little tern eggs. Hedgehog numbers are declining across the UK and have fallen by around one third since 2000.

This year the RSPB partnered with local charity, Hedgehog Friendly Portland, to design an innovative hedgehog protection fence. The fence sits outside of the current electric fence to safeguard the seabird quality.  

Jo Morland, of Hedgehog Friendly Portland said: “We are very pleased to have helped invent a successful solution to protecting the Little Tern colony from hedgehog predation as well as keeping hedgehogs away from the electric fence surrounding the site."

The project also trialled diversionary feeding of the hedgehogs beyond their nest site to encourage them away from the area.

The future of the colony is hopeful and the team is looking forward to potentially expanding the breeding area in the near future and switching to solar power for the electric fence next spring.

To find out more and apply, email:  chesil.tern@rspb.org.uk

For more info about Hedgehog Friendly Portland visit: facebook.com/HedgehogFriendlyPortland/