Avocet's record-breaking year

Avocet has had its most successful breeding year in Britain, mostly on RSPB reserves. Photo: Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com).
Avocet has had its most successful breeding year in Britain, mostly on RSPB reserves. Photo: Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com).
Avocet – the iconic bird on the RSPB's logo – has had its best-ever breeding season on Britain's nature reserves.

On the day of the RSPB's Annual General Meeting it has been revealed that Avocet – a bird once close to extinction in Britain, and the emblem of the RSPB – has enjoyed a record-breaking year across the organisation's reserves.

Avocet returned as a breeding species to Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, in 1947, after an absence of more than 100 years, and numbers have continued to grow across the country. As the Avocet population has increased, the species has consistently favoured RSPB reserves, with 50 per cent of Britain’s entire population choosing them to breed on, owing to innovative habitat management techniques such as the creation of islands and nursery pools.

RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke said: “Where Avocets lead, nature follows. The arrival of Avocets on the Suffolk coast in 1947 heralded our continuing relationship with this special place. Minsmere is now a flagship reserve, beloved by the many visitors that are drawn to its wildlife spectacles. Since Avocets colonised Minsmere, they’ve been crucial for the survival of many species, including Bitterns and Marsh Harriers, and under our care it is home to a wealth of wildlife.

“Avocets continue to take up residence around the country, often colonising places that we and others have created for them. They are a symbol of conservation success and the reason they feature as the logo of the RSPB.”

This year, Minsmere celebrated what was the best breeding season for Avocets in almost 30 years, with 58 chicks being successfully reared. Ian Barthorpe, Visitor Experience Officer at the reserve, said: “We’re thrilled to have had such a successful breeding season this year. Avocets hold great symbolic significance for Minsmere and they attract thousands of visitors each year, who hope to get a closer look at these beautiful and unusual birds.”

The long-legged bird also reached a record number of 172 pairs on Cliffe Pools RSPB, Kent – this is the highest number ever recorded at Cliffe and one of the highest concentrations recorded in Britain. Habitat work undertaken at the nature reserve has led to the creation of individual islands which have been successful in enabling Avocets to use these areas as secure nesting sites, away from predators.

Further north, Avocets were among many wader species to nest at Middleton Lakes RSPB in Staffordshire this year, representing the first breeding record for the county. Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, also had their best-ever year: the number of breeding pairs reached 81 – compared to none in 2008 – due to their dynamic management work. Small nursery pools were created on wet grassland, ideal for chicks to feed on as they offer protection from predators. Record numbers were also recorded at the Dee Estuary RSPB, Cheshire, due to efforts to improve an anti-predator fence last winter.

With autumn now upon us, the number of wintering Avocets will soon reach approximately 7,500 across the country. Poole Harbour, Dorset, attracts a huge wintering colony of the species, with numbers having risen from 25 to almost 2,000 in just 30 years – this accounts for an astonishing 40 per cent of the British non-breeding population, making it the most important wintering site in the country.