Bittern conservation programme flying high as birds boom again

The once beleaguered bittern is booming, literally and figuratively, with conservationists hailing the success of a project aimed at bringing the shy member of the heron family back from the brink.

A bittern

Scientists tracking the bird’s foghorn-like booming song have recorded more then 150 different males across England and Wales – up from just 11 in 1997. Its recovery is attributed to the restoration and management of the sizeable tracts of wet reedbed required for its successful breeding.

Declared extinct in the UK at the turn of the 20th century, the bittern was absent as a breeding bird between the 1870s and 1911. Following concern over a possible second UK extinction in the 1990s, a concerted conservation programme was set up. And 2015 has been an exceptional year, with numbers not thought to have been seen since early in the 19th century.

According to the latest figures, Somerset is the top UK county for bitterns, despite the species only becoming re-established in in the region seven years ago. More than 40 booming males have been recorded there following the restoration and creation of large wetlands in the Avalon Marshes, in particular the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve, Shapwick Heath – run by Natural England – and Westhay Moor, run by Somerset Wildlife Trust.

The East Anglia region has more than 80 booming males, and remains a stronghold for bitterns in the UK, particularly in traditional sites on the Suffolk coast, and in the Norfolk Broads, but also increasingly in a newly-created habitat in the Fens.

Of the recorded males, 59% are on sites protected under international law, namely the European Union birds and habitats directives – setting out special protection areas or special areas of conservation, collectively known as Natura 2000 sites.

Martin Harper, conservation director at the RSPB, said: “The bittern is a species which proves that conservation can be successful, especially when you can identify the reason behind its decline and bring in measures and funding to aid its recovery.”

He said the special sites have been “vital to the conservation of the bittern and other key species in the UK”. But he added: “The European Union is consulting on the future of the birds and habitats directives. And we fear this may lead to a weakening of the directives, with potentially disastrous consequences for many threatened species.”

Simon Wotton, a conservation scientist with the RSPB, said: “In the late 1990s, the bittern was heading towards a second extinction in the UK, largely because its preferred habitat – wet reedbed – was drying out and required intensive management, restoration and habitat recreations. But thanks to the efforts to improve the habitat, combined with significant funding from two projects under the European Union Life programme, the bittern was saved, and we’re delighted that its success keeps going from strength to strength.”

Of key sites contributing to the recovery, Ham Wall, which was created from old peat workings, saw the bittern first nest in 2008, with 17 boomers recorded this year. Lakenheath in Suffolk, where carrot fields were converted back to wetland, recorded six booming males, while Ouse Fen in Cambridgeshire, which saw wetland created from former mineral workings, had its first confirmed booming in 2012, with 10 recorded in 2015.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/18/bittern-conservation-programme-flying-high-birds-boom-again

 

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