Little terns head for Great Yarmouth beach

Anthony CarrollPreparations start today in welcoming Great Yarmouth's most loyal visitors - flocks of little terns who make an annual journey from Africa.Anthony Carroll

Preparations start today in welcoming Great Yarmouth's most loyal visitors - flocks of little terns who make an annual journey from Africa.

Volunteers and staff from the RSPB will spend the day installing electric fencing and notices at North Denes beach to protect the birds from hungry predators and unwitting humans.

Yesterday about 150 little terns had already made the gruelling 3,000 mile journey from Africa to Yarmouth and it is hoped that more than 250 breeding pairs will eventually set up temporary home on the beach.

Throughout the day male birds could be seen trying to lure mates with the size of fish they had caught in the North Sea.

It is hoped that the first eggs will be laid as early as next week.

The installation of the fencing will be vital in making sure that as many of the fragile chicks and eggs as possible escape the clutches of foxes, kestrels and hedgehogs.

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The fencing and notices will also stop people accidentally stepping on the bird's highly camouflaged nests and eggs which to the human eye look just like stones and pebbles.

Last only 20 fledglings managed to survive to migrate to Africa - a stark contrast to previous years which had seen abut 150 fledglings fly from Yarmouth.

Giselle Eagle from the RSPB's little tern protection warden scheme, said the very low numbers of fledglings in 2009 was mainly down to kestrels - but she hoped that a burgeoning vole population would divert the birds of preys' eagle eyed attentions this year,

As well as the electric fencing, RSPB wardens and volunteers will mount regular patrols to deter foxes, hedgehogs and other predators and to make sure people do not scare off any nesting little terns.

The little tern population at North Denes makes up 10pc of the country's population of the tiny birds and is the largest of its kind in Britain.

As well as North Denes, the little tern population at the nearby Winterton Dunes Nature Reserve is being protected by fences installed by staff and volunteers from Natural England.

Anyone interested in seeing the North Denes little tern colony can view it from a RSPB information cabin by the former Iron Duke pub. Guided walks can also be organised by calling the RSPB on 01603 715191.

On Saturday, May 22 Natural England has organised a guided free walk at Winterton Dunes from 10am. For further information call 07899 901566.