Volunteers required – protecting Little Terns on Suffolk beaches

The little tern is one of Britain’s rarest breeding seabirds and has been in decline in the UK over the past 25 years. From 2013- 2019, the RSPB and 11 conservation partners have worked together to help little tern populations recover to a sustainable level, funded through an EU LIFE+ project. The beaches of East Anglia hold around 30% of the national population of little terns, and while their numbers are growing, they still struggle to breed and raise young successfully on our shores due to habitat loss, rising sea levels, predation and disturbance from beach visitors.

From late April to the end of July, the beaches at Kessingland and Benacre are the temporary home to breeding colonies of one of Britain’s rarest and most attractive seabirds. Little terns travel 3,000 miles from West Africa to nest on our Suffolk beaches. They nest on the ground and so are highly vulnerable to human disturbance. This is why the nesting sites are protected by fencing and wardened by RSPB staff and volunteers.

The main job of the volunteer wardens is talking to other beach users about the Little Terns and why they need protection. Those who are interested can also get involved in some of our monitoring work, counting nests and fledglings, under the guidance of staff or experienced volunteers. You spend your shift on the beach close to the colony and watching as they dive for fish and listening to their calls as they return to the nest lifts the spirits. Sharing this joy with other beach-users is a very enjoyable part of the role: whether that’s sharing the amazing story of their migration with those who might not know much about birds, updating interested locals on how “their” terns are doing this year, or helping a child see a nesting bird close-up through a telescope.

We are looking for new people to join our volunteer team this coming season. You do not need expert bird knowledge; you do need to enjoy communicating with people and be able to negotiate steps down to the beach and walk some distance around the colony.

If you are keen to join us, please fill in the attached volunteer registration form and return to Sarah Gelpke (email below). All RSPB volunteers are insured once the form is completed, and it allows us to include you in our licence. Little terns are protected species, so we need to licence you to carry out protection and monitoring activities.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Little Tern warden, contact Sarah Gelpke on Sarah.Gelpke@RSPB.org.uk or 01603 660066.