The RSPB and Suffolk Police are appealing for information after 10 little tern eggs were illegally taken from nests at a colony at Kessingland, on the Suffolk Coast.
EU Life+ Little Tern Recovery Project volunteers and staff work shifts to watch and count little terns at Kessingland throughout daylight hours, when the birds are most vulnerable to disturbance.
On Monday morning 19th June, ten eggs were missing and human ‘Puma’ trainer footprints and dog paw prints were seen in the sand throughout the fenced colony.
The little tern is one of the UK’s rarest seabirds, having suffered chronic declines over the past 25 years.
The birds travel a 6,000 mile round trip each year to breed on the beaches of the British Isles, but their numbers have been declining as they struggle to find safe beaches to nest and feed their young, free from predators and human disturbance.
Annette Salkeld, RSPB Warden of North Suffolk Coast Reserves said: “With over half of the UK breeding population making a home on the East Anglian coast during the summer, and some of the largest colonies being found in Suffolk, it is vitally important that we protect this rare seabird.
“We were very disappointed to find 10 little tern eggs had disappeared overnight. The week before the incident took place we counted 109 eggs spread across 48 nests, now not only are there are fewer eggs, but as a result of the disturbance only 19 adults on nests and nine chicks have remained in the colony. This incident has been particularly upsetting as local RSPB staff and volunteers have dedicated so much of their time to protecting these amazing seabirds.”
Mark Thomas, RSPB Senior Investigations Specialist said: “Little terns are the second rarest breeding seabird in the UK so is it likely this incident will have a significant impact on their regional population in East Anglia."
"The sight and sound of a bustling little tern colony is a joy of summer, there to be enjoyed for future generations. Taking little tern’s eggs carries a six month prison sentence and together with Suffolk Police we urge anyone with information to come forward immediately.”
It has been illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and it is illegal to possess or control any wild birds' eggs taken since that time under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.