Help protect little terns, beach visitors urged

Published Thursday, 20th June 2019

Visitors to a Hartlepool beach are being urged to respect a colony of rare seabirds and avoid disturbing their nests.

The legally-protected little terns have taken up residence on a stretch of beach at Seaton Carew in recent days, prompting Hartlepool Borough Council to seal off the area.

It is estimated that around 30 pairs of birds are nesting in an area that stretches from the old fairground site to near the bus station.

Weighing only 40-60g and about the size of a starling, little terns are the smallest of the five species of terns that breed in the UK. They winter in West Africa and migrate thousands of miles to nest here from May to August. They lay their well-camouflaged eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand.

The little tern nesting site at Seaton Carew

The little tern nesting site at Seaton Carew

Graham Megson, Hartlepool Borough Council’s ecologist, said: “The nests are very difficult to spot and this makes them extremely vulnerable to disturbance and damage.

“When we became aware that little terns were nesting at Seaton Carew we took immediate steps to restrict access to the site by roping it off.

“We would urge people to respect the site and keep their distance. Adult birds will leave their nests if disturbed, leaving their eggs and chicks vulnerable to the weather and predators.

“Fortunately, this nesting site lies within the existing seasonal dog exclusion zone at Seaton Carew beach so the issue of disturbance by dogs should not be as big an issue as it might otherwise have been.

“Signs alerting members of the public to the birds’ presence have also been put up. These ask people to help us protect the birds and also warn that anyone who intentionally or recklessly disturbs the birds and their nests is committing a criminal offence punishable by a large fine.”

The birds are believed to have moved to Seaton Carew from a breeding site at Crimdon Dene, just north of Hartlepool.

Supported by the Durham Heritage Coast, wardens from the Durham and the Tees Valley Wildlife Trusts are now closely monitoring the colony which is one of the most significant in an area of the UK stretching from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Hartlepool Borough Council enforcement staff are also patrolling the area to enforce the dog exclusion zone.

Anyone who witnesses the site being deliberately disturbed or damaged should contact the police on 101.