Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Climate change leaving seabirds with nowhere to tern

One of the UK’s rarest seabirds could become a victim of climate change as rising seas and increased coastal flooding squeezes the UK’s coastline.

Little terns, the UK’s smallest tern species, return each April to breed on beaches at fewer than sixty sites around the UK. Traditional colonies at South Gare on the Tees and Donna Nook in Lincolnshire have already been lost due to changes in our coastline and just one nesting site remains in Wales.

Predictions of increased coastal flooding and sea level rise caused by climate change could spell disaster for these elegant seabirds. This warning comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issue their latest reports on climate change [note 2].

Susan Rendell-Read is the RSPB’s little tern project manager “Little terns are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. They need undisturbed sand and shingle beaches to nest with a plentiful supply of small fish just offshore. These beaches can be quickly altered by rising seas and floods, making them unsuitable for terns to nest.”

“In the past, the areas lost to flooding or storms would be offset by new areas of sand or shingle thrown up by the sea. This is now being prevented by hard sea defences and other man made developments. The result, known as coastal squeeze, means beaches are getting narrower and the little terns are quickly running out of space.”

“As rising sea levels and storms change our coastline, little terns are forced into fewer and fewer colonies and have to share space with people on some of our most popular beaches, leading to significant problems with disturbance.”

A major new five-year partnership including the RSPB, Natural England and the National Trust [note 3] has been established to help little terns adapt to climate change and secure their future in the UK. This partnership, supported by the EU LIFE + programme will lay the foundations for the long-term recovery of the little tern in the UK by protecting and creating nest sites and increasing public awareness and support.

An important part of the recovery plan is ensuring that the few sites where little terns continue to breed are protected from disturbance [note 4]. The RSPB and its partners are keen to raise awareness amongst local communities and beachgoers to give little terns space to breed safely and in peace.
Victoria Egan manages little tern colonies for the National Trust at Blakeney National Nature Reserve in Norfolk said “local communities and beachgoers have a vital role to play in helping little terns cope with the increasing threat of climate change. These tiny seabirds need space to breed undisturbed so we are urging visitors to these beaches to follow any directions and advice given on local signs on the beach and avoid entering certain areas while the little terns are breeding”.

Susan added “These dainty little seabirds, no heavier than a tennis ball, have just started returning to our shores after travelling thousands of miles from their wintering sites off the south and west coasts of Africa. We need to make sure that they have the best chance of finding a suitable home when they arrive.”
For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Richard James, RSPB media officer: 01767 680551 Out of hours: 07834 534970
Broadcast-quality radio interviews:
To arrange an ISDN broadcast-quality radio interview please contact Richard James at the RSPB press office.
Images are available on request from Richard James at the RSPB press office.
Editor’s notes:
1. The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
2. The IPCC 5th Assessment Report Working Group II – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was published on March 31st and Working group III – Mitigation on 14th April http://www.ipcc.ch/index.htm.

3. The EU LIFE + Project partners are
·         Cumbria Wildlife Trust 
·         Denbighshire County Council 
·         Durham County Council 
·         Industry Nature Conservation Association 
·         Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust 
·         Northumberland  Coast AONB partnership 
·         Northumberland County Council 
·         Natural England 
·         National Trust 
·         RSPB
·         Spurn Bird Observatory Trust
4. Little terns are listed on Schedule1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to intentionally or recklessly disturb them while nesting.
5. There are approximate 1500 pairs of little terns in the UK. Their population has declined by 9% between 1986 and 2012.
6. The RSPB is part of the Climate Coalition - formerly known as Stop Climate Chaos. The Climate Coalition is the largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change and limiting its impact on the environment and the world’s poorest communities. Our combined supporter base embraces more than 11 million people spanning over 100 organisations across the UK, from environment and development charities to unions, faith, community and women's groups.

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