One good tern… Conservation project benefits birdlife and boathouses

Lifeboats News Release

A Norfolk conservation project is helping both little terns and lifeboats, thanks to a partnership between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Little tern and chick


Little tern and chick

The RSPB leads a conservation project to protect little terns at five beaches in Norfolk and north Suffolk. Little terns nest on the ground on sandy and shingle beaches to camouflage their eggs. This autumn, the project required the removal of marram grass which was encroaching on the terns’ nesting site at Eccles. But the grass hasn’t gone to waste - instead it’s been replanted as part of the design of a new lifeboat station taking shape along the coast at Wells-next-the-Sea.

The new station, currently under construction at the end of Beach Road, will provide modern facilities including crew and training rooms, a workshop, visitor engagement area and gift shop. It is due for completion in late 2022, in time for delivery of a brand new £2.5m all-weather lifeboat for Wells. The Shannon class Duke of Edinburgh, currently being built at the RNLI’s All-Weather Lifeboat Centre, is the first in England to be part of the charity’s ‘Launch a Memory’ fundraising campaign, carrying the names of 15,000 loved ones put forward by donors to the charity.

Alice Skehel, RSPB Little Tern Project Manager, said ‘The initial project was to restore the little tern nesting area that has become overgrown with marram grass. We moved some of the grass back onto the dunes behind the colony area but had some left over. We were aware of the RNLI’s building project at Wells and felt it was a sustainable solution that benefits both lifeboats and little terns for years to come.’

Chris Hardy, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Wells RNLI, said:’ We were planning to plant marram grass in keeping with the local area, with our contractor procuring this from a supplier. However, the RSPB asked us if, rather than disposing of their grass, we would like it for our construction. This helped them reduce waste and saved our charity money, whilst also sourcing local plants. We’re very grateful to Alice and the RSPB for thinking of us.’

Steve Robinson from boathouse designers Studio Four Architects, said: ‘The new station is designed to sit in the wide-open landscape of the outer harbour and beach at Wells. Our design aims to bed the structure into its setting with timber terracing containing native plants including marram grass. These will help protect the site from the waves, absorb surface water run-off, and blend the structure into its landscape.’


RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Jim Rice, RNLI Regional Media Manager on 07810 658072 or or RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

Little tern Project: The RSPB is carrying out vegetation management at Eccles on Sea to re-establish suitable nesting habitat for the little tern colony that have made this remote beach their home over the last two decades. Little terns are one of the UK’s rarest breeding seabirds and nest directly on sandy shingle beaches in a small scrape. This makes them much more susceptible to predation and makes the habitat currently available all the more precious. In recent years the colony has spread out due to vegetation growth across the open beach habitat. The work here will restore the open beach aspect preferred by little tern in a small area, leaving few small clumps to allow the chicks to use as hiding places. This work is carried out with permission from North Norfolk District Council, the Environment Agency, and in consultation with Natural England.

The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations. RSPB website:

Group photo


Paul Davis, RSPB North Suffolk Little Tern Project Officer; Chris Hardy, Wells RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager; Alice Skehel, RSPB Little Tern Project Manager; Nicky King, Wells RNLI Coxswain/Mechanic. Copyright RNLI
Aerial view of Wells’ new lifeboat station under construction

RNLI/Jim Rice

Aerial view of Wells’ new lifeboat station under construction: Copyright RNLI/Mark Frary

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.