Floating Islands at Rutland Water Nature Reserve

Launching the Raft at Lagoon 2

Conservation Team Leader Joe Davis share the importance and benefits of floating islands rafts at Rutland Water Nature Reserve

Here at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, we have lots of wildlife and amongst this, we have many species of birds. 

To encourage breeding on our reserve we build and create artificial nesting opportunities for various bird species, from small bird boxes to large owl boxes, artificial sand martin banks, and Tern rafts.

Rutland Water

Tony Clarke

To encourage breeding on our reserve we build and create artificial nesting opportunities for various bird species, from small bird boxes to large owl boxes, artificial sand martin banks, and Tern rafts.

Tern Rafts are man-made floating islands covered in gravel that common terns and black-headed gulls nest on, the rafts mimic gravel islands that would naturally be formed in an untamed landscape of flooding rivers and estuaries. The gravel that we use looks similar to the bird's eggs so it makes ideal camouflage.

Tern Raft

Paul Trevor (Reserve Officer) covering a floating island with gravel

We recently started to re-name Tern Rafts to call them Floating islands instead, as other bird species, such as black-headed gulls, have started to use and nest on the islands.

The UK status for black-headed gulls and common terns is amber on the list of concerns, so keeping healthy, thriving populations is very important for their conservation.

These floating rafts pictured below are man-made, we used them to create the rafts from timber. However, we are slowly replacing our old rafts using pontoons made from plastic. And we know “That doesn’t sound pretty environmentally friendly I hear you say”. Well, our older timber rafts only last about 7 years, whilst the modern pontoons have an indefinite life span. So will be there for many more years to come.

One of the issues we have with the raft's success is predators, in particular otters that come onto the islands to eat the eggs and chicks. We counter this by putting a tall Perspex skirt around the outside, stopping them from getting onto the island. Whilst this isn’t natural the otters are in a rich landscape of feeding opportunities, so have plenty of food opportunities elsewhere.

Our Tern rafts have been continually successful for many years, we have had ample chick fledglings and returning species to the reserve. The average cost of a modern Tern Raft is around £6,000, we were really lucky this spring to have a legacy donation which enabled us to build two new rafts that are now on lagoon 2 at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. 

If you would like to support our work throughout our nature reserves, including creating more Tern Rafts find out more here. 

Tern Raft

The finished Tern Raft