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Tern the Tide raising awareness of the NSPW Little Tern conservation work in Wicklow

3 min read

Tern the Tide raising awareness of the NSPW Little Tern conservation work in Wicklow

3 min read


Tern the Tide raising awareness of the NSPW Little Tern conservation work in Wicklow

Tern the Tide is a creative climate action project, lead by artists Marie Gordon ( and Laura McMahon, which celebrates and raises awareness of the NSPW Little Tern conservation work in Kilcoole, along the Dublin-Rosslare Railway line.

This Wicklow based project, created using participative practices, highlights climate and biodiversity issues at both local and global scales through in person creative workshops in the community and an online engagement, culminating in a final outdoor artwork at Kilcoole train station. It is taking place with support from project partners BirdWatch Ireland, and funding partners Creative Ireland and Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail.

As the Little Terns return to Kilcoole beach, County Wicklow, from their West African wintering grounds for their nesting period from May – August, the Tern the Tide artists are preparing for their free workshops with adults in Kilcoole which will take place in June, and have met with local representative’s from Kilcoole Tidy Towns group, Biodiversity group and the local men’s shed. Across the local workshops series, participants will explore the nature of Kilcoole beach through a variety of media; including painting, sketching, collage and natural art. It will also include expert talks from BirdWatch Ireland and a visit to the Little Tern colony. These workshops will be the culmination of learnings from their research into these fascinating birds over the last few months, their journey and movement, as well as materials research for the culminating artwork. The following is an update on some of the highlights from their project process and artistic process so far.

Project partners Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail have provided decommissioned railway materials for the artists to experiment with upcycling into the final sculptural artwork. Artists Marie Gordon ( and Laura McMahon have experimented with reworking some of these materials in Moneypenny’s Blacksmithing Forge, on the Newry Canal outside Portadown, with expert consultation from their resident Blacksmith Jonny Kerr.

The artists have also been working in Fire Station Artist’s Studio, Dublin – Sculpture workshop to push the boundaries of different welding and metalworking techniques to upcycle and rework the railway materials for the culminating artwork. Cris Neuman, metal work studio manager at Fire Station Artist Studios, expertise has been of great benefit in progressing the final idea for the sculpture.

As part of local engagement, an important element to the project has also developed, where the local Kilcoole men’s shed members are producing mimics of the Little Tern birds out of silicone molds and plaster paris. This technique to make decoy birds is based on research into methods

used by other Little Tern conservation projects to encourage nesting and support ringing the birds. The excellent work at NPWS Little Tern conservation project has already led to the colony growing from less than 20 nesting pairs in the 1980s to 225 pairs in 2023, now by far Ireland’s largest Little Tern colony with more than half of the Irish population. This is all thanks to the successful consistent strategy led by scientists and conservationists monitoring and protecting through predator management – with vital assistance and cooperation from local citizens. We can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the task of tackling the global climate and biodiversity crises, but the NPSW Little Tern conservation project at Kilcoole illustrates perfectly the extreme lengths that conservationists in partnership with citizens now need to go to in order to prevent certain species from going extinct – and the success of this project shows clearly that what we do matters. When we take science-led deliberate climate action, on a local basis, we really can turn the tide. The decoys produced by the local men’s shed team lead by Paddy for the Tern the Tide art project, will be finished by creative workshop participants and donated to the BirdWatch Ireland conservation team to support their great work at the Kilcoole Beach colony. Mendicity charity are also making template birds in their Dublin based woodwork workshop for use in the creative workshop series as part of the project.

Keep up to date with progress on this project @ternthetide and on the project website

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