10/01/2006
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Back from the Brink. No 1

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In recent years the RSPB has done some fantastic work to safeguard populations of some of Britain's rarest birds. We've therefore planned a series of articles to highlight some of these remarkable success stories, starting with the tale of how Bitterns have been rescued from the brink of extinction.

Bittern: Lincs. (Photo: Dean Eades) Bittern: Lincs. (Photo: Dean Eades)

Less than 10 years ago, the remarkable booming sound of the Bittern was unlikely to be heard in Britain, except at a very few sites in East Anglia and Leighton Moss in Lancashire. The number of booming males had declined from about 80 in the 1950's to only 11 by 1997. It seemed likely that the Bittern could soon disappear as a British breeding bird.

Yet now their population is much more healthy and birdwatchers can hope to find them in many more counties. In 2004 a minimum of 55 booming males were counted.

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This spectacular increase in such a short space of time hasn't happened by accident. Alarmed at the falling numbers, the RSPB instigated a research program which showed how the Bitterns' reedbed habitats were becoming degraded due to falling water levels, encroachment of bushes and a lack of suitable pools and channels for feeding. The first task was to correct this by carefully-designed management programs on the reserves where these birds were still surviving. This enabled the birds to flourish in their favoured strongholds such as Minsmere where numbers increased from two booming birds to nine. With such healthy numbers at the prime sites, the task was then to manage other wetland areas so that further suitable reedbeds were created elsewhere in Britain into which dispersing birds could settle. As a result, Bitterns have already spread to almost 30 sites – a big change from the days when they were restricted to just a few reserves.

For further details of how the work of the RSPB has led to this conservation success story, click here to read a PDF which gives the full story, including details of how the RSPB is now trying to safeguard Bitterns from the threat of global warming.

If you like this sort of work then please consider donating to, or joining, the RSPB.

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