Cooperation across seas: roseate tern colony networking

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This networking project is a partnership of tern colony managers from four environmental NGOs (BirdWatch Ireland, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, North Wales Wildlife Trust and Bretagne Vivante) and one statutory authority (National Parks and Wildlife Service, Ireland). These organisations have combined forces to create a better future for the roseate tern (Sterna dougallii), whose north-western European population declined by about 75% in the 1970s.

Roseate tern conservation action started on Rockabill in 1989 when the population stood at just 152 pairs. Intensive reactive management actions were undertaken including vegetation clearance, terracing of steep slopes and the deployment of high-density nest boxes to protect incubating adults and chicks from poor weather, avian predators and other species competing for nesting space. Thanks to this concerted conservation effort, the Rockabill population has since increased to around 1 600 pairs, representing almost half of the whole north-western European population.


However, while the Rockabill population began to increase, other roseate tern colonies in north-western Europe continued to decline. It seemed that many of the birds were being drawn to Rockabill due to its favourable breeding conditions. One of the main objectives of the project was therefore to transfer knowledge and practical expertise directly to other colony managers in a bid to expand the bird’s breeding range and encourage it back to its former breeding colonies.

A core team of senior personnel was established, comprising staff from Rockabill, Coquet Island, Lady’s Island Lake and the RSPB Species Recovery Team. They have travelled widely around partners’ colonies discussing plans to boost the breeding population of roseate terns and improve monitoring methods and data collection especially with regard to breeding success and demography. They also visited the Azores Archipelago (Portugal), home to another EU population of roseate terns, to share expertise and stimulate cooperation across the wider NE Atlantic region.

Thanks to this networking initiative, which is funded by the LIFE programme, all the key staff from extant roseate tern colonies are now in regular contact and working together in applying consistent methodologies to boost the species recovery across the EU.