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Improving the conservation status of the little tern in the UK through targeted action at the most important colonies (LIFE Little Terns)
Start date: Sep 2, 2013, End date: Aug 31, 2018 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background The decline in the population of the little tern (Sterna albifrons) in the UK since the 1990s is a cause for concern. The principal threat to this shore nesting species is from human disturbance. After a decline between the 1930s and 1960s, the population recovered through protection and surveillance by wardens of breeding sites. However, in recent years the population has fallen again due to a range of factors, including disturbance, predation, habitat change and high tides linked to summer storms. There has been a reduction in the number of colonies, a loss of range in the west of the UK and, in general, there are poor levels of productivity. Sea-level rise also poses a threat to a number of current colonies. The total UK population is estimated to be less than 2 000 breeding pairs. The project will be the first nationally co-ordinated programme of action for the species, working with 29 colonies (about 65% of the total population) in 15 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) of the Natura 2000 network. Objectives The overall aim of the project is to lay the foundations for the long-term recovery of the little tern (Sterna albifrons) in the UK, by securing robust breeding populations at key sites throughout the country. This will be achieved by: Increasing the total population of little terns across the project sites (SPAs) through enhanced management of existing breeding sites and restoration and creation of new sites. This will help to offset colony loss through the predicted effects of climate change and sea level rise. The main focus will be on the implementation of intensive, targeted management actions, including the control of public access and predation at 20 of the most important sites in the UK, selected primarily on colony size. This is expected not only to improve the species’ status at the targeted sites but also to increase the population at the national level; Securing commitment from statutory agencies and local authorities to support little tern conservation in the longer term. It will be essential for conservation actions proposed for key little tern sites to be aligned with wider and longer-term policy and legislative frameworks, such as ‘Shoreline Management Plans’ for flood risk management; Ensuring that the general public is sympathetic to the project and supports the long-term protection of the project sites. Signs will be erected at key sites and information materials disseminated. Most little tern breeding sites experience heavy visitor pressure, and management of recreational users is key to the long-term viability of the colonies at these sites. Where access is to be restricted in the breeding season it will be important to secure public support. Expected results: Management of the key sites enhanced to address issues of predation, disturbance, habitat change and high tides, supported by enhanced wardening; Habitat suitable for new breeding colonies created or restored at four of the targeted sites; A programme of site monitoring carried out to inform project management decisions; A colour ringing programme to allow for the development of a robust population model to inform the species recovery strategy and longer-term plans; A little tern species recovery strategy for the UK; Longer-term plans agreed with statutory agencies and local authorities for targeted SPAs, to secure continued improvement in the conservation status of little terns after the project; Public support increased by the end of the project, as a result of engagement work and as demonstrated by public attitude surveys; Two peer-reviewed papers prepared by the end of the project, along with a document for other site managers highlighting best practice in little tern management; The end-of-project conference will present project findings and their application.Together, these actions will lead to an increase in the breeding population of little terns across the project sites, from the current figure of 1 241 breeding pairs, the mean breeding productivity across targeted sites will be at least 0.75 chicks per pair per year and sites for sustainable colonies will be identified where current colonies are threatened.
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