Sunday 25 August 2019

Bringing 'little terns' home

Tom Kavanagh and Paul Lynch working on a Tern conservation project on Portrane Beach
Tom Kavanagh and Paul Lynch working on a Tern conservation project on Portrane Beach
Ronan Twomey, Elaina Erro,Tom Kavanagh, Paul Lynch, John Lovatt, Karen Jones and Jan Rod working on a Tern conservation project on Portrane Beach.

Ken Phelan

A conservation project is underway at Portrane Beach to protect an endangered species of bird found only on this part of Fingal shoreline.

The Little Tern have attempted to nest at Portrane for around thirty years without great success, but it is hoped that through the intervention of the Portrane Little Tern Project that breeding will be encouraged and the population increased.

Little Tern chicks on Portrane Beach are subject to a number of threats, including predation, human disturbance, high tides and weather, and the Portrane Little Tern Project is working to combat some of these.

Tom Kavanagh, Manager of the Portrane Little Tern Project explains: 'Between two hundred and fifty and three hundred pairs of these birds come to Ireland every year, so we're not talking a huge number of birds, we're talking about a very small population. They have been breeding in Ireland since records began, going back at least 150 years, and Portrane Beach is the last place in Dublin where they could possibly breed successfully.

'The Little Tern lost their foothold in South County Dublin I'd say in the 1920s, and they started breeding on Bull Island, and also at what was called the Island Golf Club at the Malahide estuary.

'The only shingle beach that's suitable for them now in County Dublin is Portrane.

'They've chosen to nest in the most precarious place you could possibly nest - right on the shoreline, so spring time, the eggs are just washed away.

'The record that we have for Portrane since 1990 was that up until last year, seven chicks left the beach in that whole period of time.

'Last year, we had a miracle, we had fourteen chicks, that all flew to Africa in August. So we doubled the numbers last year.'

Tom says that with around forty birds in the colony this year, a small number of eggs were laid on the beach. Many of these have been destroyed by foxes and predator birds, but also from dogs being walked on the beach.

Last year, a dog attacked the colony destroying two eggs, so Tom contacted Fingal County Council, who expressed an interest in the project, and provided netting to help prevent a similar event occurring.

Tom says: 'We want to try and get the chicks ringed and off the beach. I want to know what happens to the birds and where they go.

'Last year was the first time in Portrane's history that any bird was ever ringed on the beach.

'So we know these birds flew off the beach last year in August, so the question is next year, do our chicks come back.'

Tom is now hoping the project can take on a night-time warden, as well as volunteers to protect the colony during the day.

The Little Tern leave Portrane Beach in August, so that if chicks are eaten, there will be no birds leaving Dublin this year.

The aim of Tom's project, he says, is simply to ensure that the Little Tern endures for future generations, and to protect the only of this species to be found in all of Fingal.

Fingal Independent