VISITORS to a beach on the North-East coast are being urged to respect a colony of rare seabirds and avoid disturbing their nests.

The legally-protected little terns have taken up residence on part of Seaton Carew's beach after nesting there for the first time last year.

Durham Wildlife Trust is monitoring the nesting area, which is close to the resort's centre and has been clearly marked and roped off.

However, Hartlepool Borough Council says it has not stopped people from disturbing the site, which could have disastrous consequences for the colony of 80 to 90 birds.

Sarah Scarr, heritage and countryside manager, said: “The wardens are doing a tremendous job and the majority of people who use the beach are thrilled to see the birds back.

“However, we are still seeing people walk across the whole nesting site, disturbing the colony and possibly destroying eggs as many of the birds have started laying.

“We also had an incident where a group of youths gathered on the beach on Wednesday evening in clear breach of COVID-19 rules. Some started playing football near to the nesting site, while others are reported to have thrown objects at the little terns to get them to fly up from their nests. We would urge people to respect the site and keep their distance. Adult birds will leave their nests if disturbed, leaving their eggs and chicks vulnerable to the weather and predators.”

Weighing only 40-60g and about the size of a starling, little terns are the smallest of the five species of terns that breed in the UK. They winter in West Africa and migrate thousands of miles to nest here from May to August.

The birds lay their well-camouflaged eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand, but this makes the nests very difficult to spot and leaves them extremely vulnerable to disturbance and damage.

Anyone who see the site being deliberately disturbed or damaged should call police on 101.