CONSERVATIONISTS have spoken of their horror after vandals with dogs trashed one of the most successful breeding colonies of the UK’s rarest seabirds.

Dozens of little tern eggs were either stolen or destroyed in a fenced area at Crimdon beach, near Blackhall Rocks, east Durham, on Saturday.

The Little Tern Recovery Project, run by the RSPB and involving several partners, offers protection for the birds, which are on the red endangered list and fly from Africa to breed in Crimdon each year.

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Crimdon Project Officer Coralie Niven: “This comes as a real blow, considering the birds had been doing so well up to that point.

“Somebody entered the site with dog or dogs and it is the dogs, directed by their owner, that have caused the damage.

“We have lost quite a number of nests - about 50 out of about 79 nests.

“We are making the site as good as possible again and hopefully the birds will relay.

“Once the birds in the colony have settled down we will carry out a proper check and see how many nests we have got left.”

Mrs Niven added: “The birds have got the potential of laying again, but maybe not to the same number.

“If some do and the weather holds and the tides behave - which they have done up to now - the little terns stand some chance of recovering.

“Up to now it has been a pretty good year for food, as well as tides, compared to other sites around the country, which have been badly hit.”

Little terns are particular in their needs, requiring a mix of sand and shingle to breed. They nest on the beach, just above the high water line and are extremely vulnerable.

Mrs Niven said the latest incident was not the first problem this year.

She said: “Somebody was reported by member of public seen to encourage his dogs to go into the fenced off area and took his registration number last month.

“The police went and visited that person and issued him with a poaching letter.

“The site very clearly marked and people are used to them being their each year. The beach is extremely popular with dog walkers and most are responsible.

“We have wardens there daily – showing people best places to view. We are asking people to stay as far reasonably possible from the fences.”

In June 2013 police launched a nationwide alert for a thief who stripped a rare colony of little terns of its eggs. It was feared they would not return.

A spokesman for Durham Police said: “The site is fenced off to the public and people are being reminded not to enter the fenced off area, and keep their dogs on a lead”.

  • Anyone who has seen any suspicious behaviour in the area or knows anything about the incident is asked to call PC James Hanson on 101.
  • For more information on the project visit https://www.littleternproject.org.uk.