The Baltray Little Terns Conservation Scheme
Little terns are one of Ireland’s rarest breeding sea birds. Volunteers from the Louth Nature Trust spend up to 100 hours each season, protecting the nesting sites of Little Terns on a 1.5 km area of Baltray beach in County Louth. The beach is one of the sites that these summer migrants return to each year.
Volunteers from the Louth Nature Trust spend up to 100 hours each season, protecting the nesting sites of Little Terns on a 1.5 km area of Baltray beach in County Louth. The beach is one of the sites that these summer migrants return to each year and the conservation project has been running in various forms since 2005.
“Little terns are one of Ireland’s rarest breeding sea birds and we’ve noticed that nesting sites here have reduced in the last few years,” says Breffni Martin from the Louth Nature Trust. The Heritage Council supports the Baltray Little Terns Conservation Scheme.
Little Terns – which are easily identified by their small size and yellow bills, tend to nest on shingle beaches and are extremely noisy in the breeding season. However, if they become vulnerable to predators such as foxes and crows, they will go to a different nesting site the following year.
The Louth Nature Trust pays a warden to manage predators on the designated area of Baltray beach on a 24 hour basis during nesting season from the beginning of May to mid-July. Volunteers also provide backup support, waving off crows and asking people not to walk or bring their dogs near the nesting sites. The eggs of breeding Little Terns are very well camouflaged on shingle beaches so much so that people mightn’t even notice them and crush them under their feet unwittingly.
Signage on the beach also alerts walkers to keep off potential nesting spots and the wardens give out leaflets and inform passersby about the conservation efforts for Little Terns on the beach. A blog on the Louth Nature Trust website (louthnaturetrust.org) updates the public regularly on the project.
The problem in 2017 however is that although the birds arrived but they didn’t stay. Breffni Martin says that very few if any nesting sites were found on Baltray beach in the summer of 2017. “It seems like there aren’t any fish due to turbidity in the water. We need to do an ecological study of the area to fully understand what’s happening,” says Martin.
The Little Tern is amber-listed on the threatened birds lists. The traffic light system makes it easy to identify birds most in need of conservation action. Organizations such as Birdwatch Ireland allocate bird species to red, amber and green lists, according to the level of threat that exists. For example, green listed birds are not considered to be at risk.
The Louth Nature Trust is concerned that without support to protect the nesting sites of Little Terns, these birds are likely to disappear from Ireland as a breeding species, thus reducing Ireland’s biodiversity.
See also www.louthnaturetrust.org