The RSPB are assisting Norfolk Constabulary in an appeal for information into the theft of seven clutches (nests) of little tern eggs in Winterton, North Norfolk.

The EU Life+ Little Tern Recovery Project volunteers and staff in the area work shifts to monitor the terns throughout daylight hours, when the birds are most vulnerable to disturbance.

However, in the early hours of the morning of Thursday 20 June, RSPB little tern wardens discovered that up to 20 eggs had been illegally stolen from seven clutches. Human footprints were identified leading up to each nest.

Little terns are one of the UK’s rarest breeding seabirds, having suffered serious declines over the past 25 years. In the 1980s there were 2,500 breeding pairs, this fell to less than 2,000 pairs in 2000, and it is now estimated that there are currently 1,500 pairs or less.

Fabian Harrison from the RSPB said: “With over half of the UK’s breeding little terns making a home in East Anglia this year, it is devastating that seven clutches of little tern eggs have been illegally stolen from the Winterton colony in Norfolk.

"Little terns are one of our rarest breeding birds, travelling thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in Africa each summer to nest on our Norfolk coastline, as well as around the country.

"It is upsetting to see the hard work of these birds go to waste, as they will now have to re-lay and attempt to rear their chicks before the summer is over. We implore the public to stay vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour to the Police immediately.”

Little terns are a Schedule One breeding species, the highest tier of protection for wildlife under UK law. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird, or to intentionally or recklessly disturb a Schedule One breeding species. Officers at Norfolk Constabulary are appealing for information from anybody who witnessed anything suspicious between 6 pm on Wednesday 19 June and 7.30 am on Thursday 20 June, near Winterton beach. If you have any information please call 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, quoting reference 36/41958/19.