Bumper season for rare seabird on Northumberland coast

Roseate terns in nesting boxes on Coquet Island.
Roseate terns in nesting boxes on Coquet Island.

The UK’s rarest breeding seabird, the roseate tern, is enjoying a bumper season on Coquet Island, with 100 pairs currently nesting at the Northumberland site.

It is a success story that can be attributed to a programme of ongoing conservation work over the past 15 years on the island, aimed at reversing the fortunes of the red-listed threatened species.

Roseate terns have never been very common and have suffered global declines since the 20th century. RSPB Coquet Island is their only regular UK breeding colony.

The RSPB began successfully managing the island for roseate tern conservation in 2000 with the introduction of nest boxes on specially created shingle terraces.

Warden Paul Morrison said: “The whole project kicked off when I visited Rockabill in Southern Ireland, which is home to Europe’s largest roseate colony. I noticed they used boxes there so I brought the idea back to Coquet Island. Roseates like to nest in tight communities in sheltered locations so the boxes on terraces are perfect for them.”

The nestboxes had an immediate effect with the number of pairs breeding on the island rising from 24 in 1999 to 34 the following year. Since then, the RSPB on Coquet Island has continued to turn around the fortunes of roseate terns in the face of continuing national decline.

Paul said: “In addition to the nest boxes, we protect them from illegal disturbance and egg theft with a 24/7 surveillance scheme staffed by a team of dedicated RSPB staff and volunteers. We also follow strict procedures to ensure that no mammalian predators like rats are introduced to the island.

“We are delighted that we’ve reached the landmark of a 100 pairs and are hoping that we might have even more birds breeding on the island before the season is out. If roseate terns continue to increase on Coquet Island over the next few years, we could eventually see them colonising other sites around the Northumberland coast.”