The brilliance of the Blackwater estuary

Little tern at nest, wing stretching after incubating.

Little tern at nest, wing stretching after incubating. - Credit: Chris Gomersall (

The Blackwater estuary is one of the county’s truly special places. It supports a whole host of amazing wildlife from the rare native oyster to the impressive hen harrier and it is a hub for people to flock to over the summer months, enjoying everything from crabbing on the beach to cream teas overlooking the estuary.

Occasionally though, this mix of people and wildlife can come into conflict and one species that has suffered as a result of human disturbance has been the little tern. This delightful little seabird travels all the way from West Africa to the UK just for the summer months and often to the same breeding sites. They are one of our rarest breeding birds here in the UK and in Essex they breed in colonies on shingle islands along the Blackwater estuary laying two to four eggs on the ground.

These islands are also popular places for boating trips and unwittingly people landing on them can cause damage to the eggs or disturb the birds causing them to abandon the nest in what is known as dread.

This problem isn’t unique to Essex, however, and so The Little Tern Project, which involves lots of wildlife organisations across the country, has successfully gained EU LIFE funding to tackle this issue along with other natural threats the birds face. In Essex this funding will pay for signage near key nesting areas informing people about The Little Tern Project as well as supporting work with local communities around the Blackwater to help spread the message about this beautiful little bird and its importance to the Blackwater estuary.

Alex Cooper, RSPB conservation officer for Essex, explains: ‘Beaches along the Blackwater estuary are a great place to visit and they are also a great place for nature, we believe that there should be space for both and we want the people who visit the area to take pride and pleasure in the fact that the estuary is such an important place for these amazing birds.’