Thursday, 18 December 2014


The bittern - benefiting from habitat creation initiatives

THE UK’s bittern population is now higher than at any time since the 1800s.

That’s according to an announcement this week by the RSPB which says the progress “demonstrates that it is possible to bring back species from the brink”.

Thanks to  funding from the EU, a range of organisations have participated in  numerous initiatives over the past 17 years to encourage these elusive  reedbed  birds.

In 1997, at the start of the EU’s bittern project, there were 11 reported  booming males at seven sites.

This year, there were 140 “boomers” across 61 sites.

Of these sites, 14 are current or former gravel pits, brick pits or open coal mines, demonstrating the important role restored quarries and similar sites can play in securing the long term future of bitterns and other wildlife.

RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk used to be the stronghold for this bird for many years. But with the effects of climate change such as loss of freshwater coastal wetlands in mind, conservationists realised that it would be better if a number of suitable habitats were available in areas that were safe from sea level rise, and spread across the country, to ensure the bittern’s future.

This year, the highest number of bitterns recorded was at at RSPB Ham Wall, inland marsh habitat in Somerset, where 20 birds were booming from the reeds.

Somerset now has England’s largest bittern population.

According to the RSPB,  action for bitterns has also benefited other reedbed species such as water voles, great white egrets and rare small dotted footman moths. 

Functioning reedbeds also provide free services for people, including water filtration and flood mitigation.

Says the charity’s Director of Conservation Martin Harper: "The bittern success story should give hope that it is possible to recover threatened species and that it makes sense to protect the laws that protect nature.”

It is thought  the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has played a role in supporting bitterns in the north of the county, but it is not mentioned in the RSPB statement. On the basis of the latest Lincolnshire Bird Report (2012), the species seems to be struggling to secure a breeding foothold.

The RSPB statement says: “Across the country many conservation groups and private landowners have worked together to bring bitterns back.

“These include, for example, the National Trust at Wicken Fen, Natural England at Shapwick Heath, and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Potteric Carr plus  Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Somerset Wildlife Trust.”

Photo credit: Andy Hay (courtesy of RSPB)

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