Listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, the roseate tern (Sterna dougallii) is classed as ‘Rare in Europe’ by BirdLife International and is a Species of European Conservation Concern. Due to its status, the species is considered as a priority for LIFE funding.
The roseate tern breeds in just two areas of Europe, namely the Azores and the far northwest. The northwest metapopulation is spread across a small number of sites in France, Ireland and the UK; the French sites have been targeted by a previous LIFE project (LIFE05 NAT/F/137), and this project was designed to build on the previous one.
In the UK, the roseate tern has been in decline since a high point in the 1960s. The cause of this decline is not fully understood, but contributing factors are thought to include predation and disturbance at breeding colonies, loss of nesting sites, and trapping and/or overfishing on the wintering grounds in West Africa. Five UK SPAs host roseate tern, but only one of these, Coquet Island, currently supports an established population.
In Ireland, three SPAs host roseate tern: two as breeding sites (Rockabill and Lady’s Island Lake) and one mainly as a post-breeding site (Dalkey Islands). Rockabill is the principal site in the northwest Europe metapopulation, holding 79% of this metapopulation in 2014. The safeguarding of these sites is therefore of critical importance.
The overall goal of the LIFE14 Roseate Tern project was to improve the conservation prospects of roseate tern (Sterna dougallii) in the UK and Ireland. This aim would contribute to a long-term goal of improving the conservation status of roseate tern across Europe.
Specific objectives were to:
- Increase the population of roseate tern in the UK and Ireland by enhancing habitat management and reducing threats at the three principal colonies (Rockabill and Lady's Island Lake in Ireland and Coquet Island in the UK).
- Provide the conditions needed for a re-expansion of roseate tern in the UK and Ireland through enhanced management and restoration of all SPAs designated for this species.
- Identify long-term options for the management and establishment of tern colonies across northwest Europe, in view of predicted changes to the climate and coastlines.
- Improve understanding of key issues affecting roseate terns in northwest Europe and in wintering areas in West Africa.
- Develop and disseminate guidance and plans for the management of roseate tern breeding sites; and
- Develop the conservation strategy covering the whole northwest European metapopulation of roseate tern.
The LIFE14 Roseate Tern project achieved its objectives of improving the conservation prospects of the roseate tern (Sterna dougallii) in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as a step towards improving the conservation status of this priority species across Europe. This was achieved by conducting a series of conservation actions in 8 sites, using an enhanced approach to management within both the current roseate tern colonies and potential future recolonisation sites. The actions included wardening, predator control, creating and improving nesting sites, and replacing equipment and infrastructure.
The management was underpinned by the existing knowledge and knowledge gained from the project’s studies on tern diet, tern demography, spatial utilisation of foraging areas, migration routes and staging areas outside of the breeding season, as well as impacts in overwintering areas in West Africa.
During the project, the population of roseate tern in the UK and Ireland grew 7% between 2016 and 2020. When comparing the 5-year means at the three colonies that provide the best indication of the population performance, the Rockabill population grew 29%, Lady’s Island Lake by 37%, and Coquet by 36%, compared to the 2011-2015 mean.
In addition to the above three sites, the project also enhanced conditions for breeding roseate terns at five other sites (so-called 'expansion sites'): Forth Islands, Solent and Southampton Water, Ynys Feurig, Cemlyn Bay and The Skerries SPA, Larne Lough and Dalkey Islands.
The lessons learnt from the practical management, networking and research actions during the project were used for the development of the International (East Atlantic) Action Plan, developed within the EU framework.
The best practice guidance for tern colony management developed by the project was widely disseminated among site managers, and during networking activities, workshops and seminars. The EU East Atlantic Roseate Tern Action Plan was updated as part of the project setting future direction for full recovery.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).