RSPB Great Bustards on the rise


This page contains 12 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Tue 14/09/10 11:31).

One of the most spectacular birds on the planet, the Great Bustard, looks set to consolidate its return to the UK with the team behind its reintroduction confirming the presence of four nests, with four chicks hatched so far this year.

Great Bustard and chick (Photo: Great Bustard Group)

The Great Bustard, which became extinct in Britain as a nesting bird in 1832, successfully nested last year, when two pairs fledged two chicks on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

David Waters, Founder and Director of the Great Bustard Group, said: "Last year was a milestone for the project; this year really does give confirmation that the project is well on its way to achieving its aims of a self-sustaining population in the UK. After so many years of work, it is great to see the results."

A reintroduction trial, led by the Great Bustard Group, began in 2004 using bustards reared from eggs rescued from cultivation in Saratov Oblast in Southern Russia. The chicks are reared in Russia in a partnership with the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Evolution and Ecology, a branch of the Russian National Academy of Science. When the chicks are about six weeks old they are flown into the UK, and after a period of quarantine they are released on to Salisbury Plain. The chicks are released under a licence issued to the Great Bustard Consortium (the Great Bustard Group, the RSPB and the University of Bath) by DEFRA.

The first bustard nest from the project was in 2007, and there were further nests in 2008 but the eggs from these clutches were infertile. In 2009 the oldest males became sexually mature, and the first Great Bustard chicks hatched in the wild in England after 177 years. Despite predictions that the inexperienced females would not successfully fledge chicks, two were fledged, although sadly one was predated shortly after fledging.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Conservation Director, said: "Restoring lost wildlife and lost landscapes to Britain are among the RSPB's most important objectives. The encouraging signs that the return of the Great Bustard is edging closer is fantastic news. There are still some noticeable species gaps in England, but we will strive to restore some of those species which Man has thoughtlessly removed over successive generations."

David Waters added: "This year we are aware of four Great Bustard nests, and that so far four chicks have hatched. In spite of their considerable size, nesting females are notoriously hard to find, and thus other females are suspected of nesting in addition to the four we are aware of. We very much hope these females will turn up with their youngsters later in the autumn, since the mother–offspring bond is especially strong and long-lasting. Since each mother has a tag, we will be able to tell which mothers were the 'super-nannies'."

Great Bustard and chick (Photo: Great Bustard Group)

The nest sites are kept secret due to fears of pressure from birdwatchers and the eggs were marked with a special permanent DNA glue to deter and to help prosecute egg collectors.

The Great Bustard is a slow bird to mature, so it has been a long wait to get this far, but this could not be speeded up. A small UK population of about 18 birds has been built up, but it is only when this population begins to produce its own young and becomes self-sustaining that the project can be judged as successful. Two years of successful breeding and increasing number of nests indicate last year was no fluke, and that the Great Bustard is well on its way back to being established in the UK.

The reintroduction project has been led by the Great Bustard Group. It is a charitable membership organisation. The Great Bustard Group has largely funded the whole process itself, from gaining the required licences and permissions through to renting the land. It needs about £130,000 a year to fund the whole project, even allowing for a great deal of assistance given without charge by volunteers and project supporters and sponsors. The RSPB provide direct financial support to the project and share the experience and expertise of its staff. The University of Bath funds a three-year PhD project to investigate ecology and behaviour of the Great Bustard, and to monitor the movement of reintroduced birds.

Related pages

Wiltshire Wiltshire
Great Bustard Great Bustard

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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (12)

Good news but i would like my local Lapwing, Curlew, Snipe and Redshank back please....
   Laurie Allan, 10/06/10 06:33Report inappropriate post Report 
Fantastic news, after so many years of effort and failed attempts what wonderful news, hopefully a small outpost of breeding pairs can be the end result of this work. Quite how viable a small breeding outpost in Wiltshire will be in the long run will be interesting to see, but with a species as endangered as the Great Bustard if a succesful and self sustaining british population can be established no matter how small then that would be a little milestone in ensuring the species continued existence in Western Europe and maybe start to slowly increase the European population!
   Antony Disley, 10/06/10 08:36Report inappropriate post Report 
Great news indeed, but how many acres of primary rain forest in SE Asia/South America could be preserved for £130,000 per year? With the intense fragmentation of suitable habitat for bustards in Britain, powerlines, and other hazards are we ever going to see anything other than a highly localised isolated Great Bustard population with more than a small potential for gene pool dilution?
   Hugh Pugh, 10/06/10 09:32Report inappropriate post Report 
I agree entirely with Hugh Pugh. This is exactly what was meant recently when a well known naturalist spoke about Pandas in China. In saying that though, your right, it is good news and always will be worth trying at any level. Long may they continue to be successful.
   Richard Jones (London), 10/06/10 10:27Report inappropriate post Report 
Also agree with Hugh. What a pointless waste of money.
   Martin, 10/06/10 19:00Report inappropriate post Report 
Its all relative. Consider the average Member of Parliament... which is the most pointless waste of money now... the MP or the bustard project? I know I wouldn't walk to the bottom of my garden to see my MP, but I've travelled all over the world to see bustards.
   Steve, 11/06/10 13:08Report inappropriate post Report 
A lot of the money is spent on people's wages. What is your job Martin? And a question to all of you? What do you spend your money on? Is all your food organically produced, which in turn would help the return of the decimated lapwing, curlew, snipe, yellowhammer, house sparrow, etc... Consume palm oil anyone? Bye-bye rainforests then!
   Matt Jordan, 12/06/10 10:17Report inappropriate post Report 
In response to Richard Jones' post, I'm not sure I entirely agree here. I think Packham was wrong about the Panda. We shouldn't sit back and allow anything to become extinct. Almost by definition anything on the brink is going to be a challenge to save, and will cost money, but if it is OK for the Panda to die out then it's OK to let Tigers die out too, and Kakapos. Thin end of the wedge. We need to think about conserving habitats rather than species. Great Bustards are not threatened to the same extent glabally, and if they were then setting up an isolated population on an island crossed with a dense maze of power lines and other hazards wouldn't be the answer.
   Hugh Pugh, 12/06/10 14:04Report inappropriate post Report 
My head tends to agree that this is not the most rational project, but my heart thrills that maybe, just maybe, one day I will be able to see great bustard and I suspect my heart wins
   Angela Needham, 13/06/10 14:34Report inappropriate post Report 
Waste of money and a strange set of priorities when our native farmland and woodland birds are in such trouble. Smacks of headline-grabbing while less glamorous species like corn bunting and twite are largely left to their own devices.
   Paul C, 30/06/10 08:55Report inappropriate post Report 
Couldn't agree more with Hugh..we should do all we can to prevent extintions of all species...but i'm afraid Matts organically produced food might help locally but clearly wouldn't work on a global scale as more FSU steppes would need to be ploughed to produce the vast amount of food needed to sustain the burgoning human populace. intensive farming (& ultimately probably GM) is the only real answer to the horrific world birth rate.But i've strayed from the point...Angelas right its Great to see a Bustard!!
   Adrian, 05/07/10 16:21Report inappropriate post Report 
Great Article in this months birdwatch magazine about the Great Bustard Project. Some points I did not realise...A lot of the money was put personally by the project team...therefore it is not a waste of funds that could be spent elsewhere. A great comment by the project leader was " How can anyone tell me any different when they are holding a £2000 scope, have £1000 binoculars around their necks and are wearing an Ecqudor Tee-shirt" Made me think again!!
   Richard Jones (London), 14/09/10 11:31Report inappropriate post Report 

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