LOST nesting habitats for a vulnerable bird species along the Hampshire coastline have been restored thanks to more than 80 tonnes of shingle.

Staff and volunteers from the RSPB, Hampshire County Council and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust worked to complete the project to support terns near Lymington.

Historically, the Western Solent supported large tern colonies including common, Sandwich, little and roseate terns, however breeding numbers have fallen in recent years. In 1997, the Solent was home to 3.1 per cent of the national breeding population of roseate terns - Europe’s rarest tern, but since 2006 they have failed to breed here altogether.

Terns are vulnerable to rising sea levels as they nest in shallow shingle, often barely above the high tide mark. To address this issue, three habitat creation projects were completed earlier this year as part of an EU-funded project in the Lymington – Keyhaven area.

A management technique called ‘shingle recharging’ was used to raise selected existing nest sites above the high tide level to help protect chicks against storm surges until they safely fledge.

Eighty-eight tonnes of shingle had to be transported and deposited on Lymington saltmarsh using a large barge and a crane. The material had to be then spread by hand with the help of volunteers.

Matthew Brown, RSPB’s project officer co-ordinating the habitat creation work, highlighted the importance of recharge as a technique for preserving tern nesting habitat: “The shell ridges which surround the outer edges of Lymington saltmarshes have always been the principal nesting habitat for tern species (including roseate) in the Western Solent. The profile of these structures has changed significantly in recent years and they are increasingly being flooded at high tide. Shingle recharge will hopefully increase the area of available nesting space for terns”

Moreover, a total of six nesting rafts were deployed around the site and further east, at North Solent National Nature Reserve. Four rafts have been deployed on lagoons to boost the local population of common terns.

As part of this effort, three concrete nesting bunds, complete with fine shingle and chick shelters, were also constructed on the crest of a breakwater in Lymington River. Both, the floating rafts and nesting bunds provide extra protection against mammalian predators and human disturbance.

Charlotte Belcher, RSPB’s Tern Warden in the Western Solent area added: “Roseate terns are relatively gentle when it comes to protecting the colony from predators. They breed together with more aggressive species such as common terns to benefit from their protection. To this end, we are concentrating on supporting common terns in the Solent in hope that once again roseate terns will breed here”.

The project was funded by the EU LIFE Programme.