Tern raft deemed a flyaway success at Port Edgar

The tern raft was installed last year in the Firth of Forth near Port Edgar.
The tern raft was installed last year in the Firth of Forth near Port Edgar.

A new artificial tern raft built last year at Port Edgar in the Firth of Forth has proved to be a big success this summer.

Ecologists have counted more than 180 common terns using the raft at any one time, with 109 active nests, and over 90 chicks hatched out. Some of these chicks have now fledged, but many are still being fed by their parents, and can be seen from the shore with the help of binoculars.

It is hoped that the raft, which was funded by the Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery project, will boost the local population of common terns, with the long term aim of bringing rare roseate terns back to the area to breed. Roseate terns nested in the Firth of Forth as recently as 2009. As they’re gentle in nature, they prefer to join existing colonies of more aggressive tern species for protection.

RSPB Scotland’s Chris Knowles, said: “I’m really pleased at the results we’ve had so far from this new raft. The common terns took to it almost immediately last year and ended up fledging an impressive 13 chicks.

“This year, they came back early in May to re-establish the colony and were very busy with courtship displays and territorial behaviour.

“We’ve counted at least 92 common tern chicks so far this summer, but it’s been tricky to spot them all because we designed the raft with lots of shelters and barriers.

“These have been very successful at keeping the chicks hidden from predators, but it also means they play hide and seek when I go out to count them!”

The raft, which measures 64 square metres, is covered in over one tonne of crushed shells, and took three days to build. Different sizes of concrete and clay tiles provide shelter from predators, helping to keep the chicks safe until they can fledge.

There are five species of tern found in the UK: common, Arctic, little, Sandwich and roseate. Common terns are only the second most common species, after Arctic, and have suffered population declines in recent years.

Roseate terns are the least common tern and also the UK’s rarest breeding seabird. They were driven almost to extinction in the 19th century by the demand for their stunning tail streamers, which were used in the manufacture of ladies’ hats.

In recent years, individual roseate terns have been seen at different sites around the Firth of Forth, and there is a good chance they can be attracted back to the area to breed.

Their main colony in the UK is Coquet Island in Northumberland, which had a record 118 pairs last year fledging a total of 119 chicks. Two roseate tern chicks also hatched out last summer on an island off Anglesey, the first at that colony since 2006.

The terns in the Forth are the subject of ongoing conservation work delivered by the RSPB in collaboration with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and funded by the Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery project.