The little tern is one of the UK’s rarest seabirds, having suffered chronic declines over the past 25 years. These little birds travel a 6,000 mile round trip each year to breed on the beaches of the British Isles, but their numbers have been declining as they struggle to find safe beaches to nest and feed their young, free from predators and human disturbance.

In the 1980s there were 2,500 breeding pairs, this fell to less than 2,000 pairs in 2000, and it is now estimated that there are currently 1,500 pairs or less.

Now, over half of the UK breeding population makes a home on the East Anglian coast during the summer, and some of the largest colonies are found in Suffolk. So EU Life+ Little Tern Recovery Project volunteers and staff work shifts to watch and count little terns at Kessingland, Suffolk,  throughout daylight hours, when the birds are most vulnerable to disturbance.

Unfortunately, this week, this important colony has suffered another devastating decline through illegal egg collecting.

Between the Sunday evening and Monday morning shifts, human footprints and dog paw prints were discovered in the fenced area and 10 little tern eggs disappeared. The previous week, before the incident took place, the team counted 109 eggs spread across 48 nests. Now not only are there are fewer eggs, but as a result of the disturbance only 19 adults on nests and nine chicks have remained in the colony.

This is very sad news for the team of dedicated staff and volunteers who have devoted a lot of time to protecting these amazing seabirds, and we can’t be sure at the moment, of the long-term effects of this incident  on the colony.


How can I help?

It has been illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and it is illegal to possess or control any wild birds' eggs taken since that time under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Taking little tern’s eggs carries a six month prison sentence.

In response to the incident, the RSPB and officers at Suffolk Police are appealing for information from anybody who witnessed anything suspicious between 8.30pm on Sunday 18 June and 7am on Monday 19 June. If you have any information please call Suffolk Police on 101, quoting reference 43221/17.

However, there are other ways to help by looking after your local little terns – whether you’re at home or on holiday...


Five ways you can help little terns:


If you are heading to the beach, and would like to help the recovery of little terns, here are a few tips:


  • Become a volunteer and help educate others about little terns.
  • Keep back from any special fenced areas you see on beaches and well clear of beach nesting birds at all times.
  • When walking on the beach during the summer, keep dogs on leads and under close control
  • Do not fly kites or kite-surf near the little tern colonies.
  • If you see a little tern trying to nest, don’t approach! Let a volunteer or warden know where it is so we can help protect the nest.


 Become a volunteer

Whilst this incident happened in Suffolk, we are most in need of volunteers on our Norfolk beaches at Winterton-on-sea and Eccles. If you think you can help out, email

  • Thanks Emily,

    Very sad, and certainly sounds like a collector.  Trail or remote video cameras next year perhaps?  More cost, but a good deterrent and with remote video, you could stream footage of the colony to the volunteers and onto your website - a bit like ospreys and peregrines elsewhere

  • Hi Alan,

    Unfortunately we are unable to cover all night shifts due to a lack of resources.



  • Hi Emily was it a conscious decision  not to have a night shift or lack of volunteers?

  • Hi Keith,

    We believe it was egg collection because the fence appeared untampered: the voltage had not changed (which is likely to have happened had a dog run in), and there is no damage to the fence. In addition to this, the footprints seemed to move around the nests in a methodical way, and the nests looked untouched other than the removal of the eggs.

    We are also pretty certain that the eggs were not taken by crows as these have been watched during the day shifts and shown no interest in the little tern colony.

    I hope this helps, please feel free to get in touch if you have any more questions.



  • Emily K,

    I'm curious, from the report '...human footprints and dog paw prints were discovered in the fenced area and 10 little tern eggs disappeared.'  It sounds more like someone's dog was off the lead, out of control, disturbed the birds and ate a few eggs in the process before being stopped/retreived, rather than egg collecting.    

    What makes you think it was an egg collector(s)?  Is there other evidence pointing that way that it is not in this report?