Lost Habitats Restored for Hampshire Terns
The Western Solent in Hampshire has historically supported large colonies of terns including sandwich, little and roseate terns. Sadly, however, the numbers of birds have been falling in recent years. As recently as 1997, the region was home to 3.1% of the UK’s breeding population of roseate terns. But since 2006 there have been no birds of this species breeding in the area. Something had to be done!
Rising Sea Levels
Terns are vulnerable to rising sea levels as they nest in shallow shingle which is usually only just above the high tide mark. Sea levels are rising due to climate change and so the tern’s habitat has been disappearing below the water line. The chicks then become more vulnerable to storm surges.
The Recharge Technique
Now, the tern habitat in the Western Solent has been restored using what is known as shingle recharging. An EU-funded project involving both staff and volunteers from the RSPB, Hampshire County Council and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has boosted the coastline near Lymington with over 80 tonnes of shingle for the birds.
The shingle has raised selected nesting sites above the high tide level to protect vulnerable chicks from storm surges. 88 tonnes of shingle was transported to Lymington saltmarsh using a barge and crane. The material was then spread by the staff and volunteers of the three organisations involved with the project.
Preserving Natural Habitats for Birds
Matthew Brown, the RSPB’s project officer co-ordinating the habitat creation work, highlighted the importance of the recharge technique for preserving nesting habitats: "The shell ridges which surround the outer edges of Lymington saltmarshes have always been the principal nesting habitat for tern species (including roseate) in the Western Solent".
Rafts and Barges
It is hoped that the new shingle will provide the perfect environment for the birds to safely nest. In addition, a total of six nesting rafts were deployed around the area and further east, at North Solent National Nature Reserve. Four rafts have been deployed on lagoons to boost the local population of common terns.
Common terns are more aggressive than roseate terns and so, if the species breed in the same area, the roseate turns benefit from greater protection. For this reason it is important to promote the fortunes of the common tern.
As part of this effort, three concrete nesting bunds, complete with fine shingle and chick shelters, were also constructed on a breakwater in Lymington River. Both the floating rafts and nesting bunds provide extra protection against predators and human disturbance.