JNCC hosts tern workshop


Arctic tern © Miha PodlogarWhat is the best way of collecting information to protect our tern colonies? How do we identify ‘hotspots’ for terns at sea? These were questions addressed at a special workshop hosted by the JNCC in December last year. 


arious tern breeding colonies around the UK are protected within Special Protection Areas (SPAs), but these do not currently include any marine areas used, for example, for feeding. The JNCC and the nature conservation agencies are now looking to identify the most suitable marine areas to be recommended as SPAs for all five tern species that breed in the UK (Sandwich, little, common, Arctic and roseate).

Disadvantages of existing data

Identification of marine SPAs for terns requires a good knowledge of the location of tern hotspots at sea.  We need spatially-explicit information on which sea areas are most frequently and consistently used by terns. The first attempt to collect/collate such data used targeted aerial surveys and existing boat-based survey data from the European Seabirds at Sea (ESAS) database. However, terns were significantly under-recorded from aircraft, and coverage for coastal areas by the existing boat survey data was poor − the data generally collected was at too coarse a resolution for this purpose.


Both aerial survey and ESAS data offered a general impression of where some of the important marine areas for terns might be, but an alternative method was needed that would give fine-scale quantitative information on tern hotspots. To determine what options were available, JNCC held a workshop with nature conservation agency ornithologists and other tern experts. The one-day workshop, hosted by the JNCC Marine SPA team in Aberdeen n December 2008, considered the best approaches for identifying important marine areas for terns around the UK.

Presentations and group discussion
A total of 25 attendees joined the workshop: representatives from BirdLife International,RSPB, Birdwatch Ireland, National Parks & Wildlife Service, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, ECON Ecological Consultancy Ltd and the University of Kiel, as well as from each of the four nature conservation agencies. The workshop began with a series of presentations from seven attendees, putting the tern SPA work into context, and then describing current work to collect data on how terns use the marine environment, as well as examples of approaches to modelling bird distributions in the marine environment.


A breakout session allowed smaller groups to discuss approaches to identifying tern hotspots at sea, with their associated advantages and disadvantages. Each group reported their conclusions to the workshop as a whole, with a general discussion on which approaches were likely to be most viable as well as possible synergies and linkages between the different approaches.


The tern workshop was a great success. JNCC is now considering the potential strategic approaches and data collection methods in more detail and working with the agencies to develop a detailed three-year work plan, with a view to beginning targeted data collection this summer.


Linda Wilson

Senior Seabird Ecologist

Tel: +44 (0) 1224 655713