Breeding Spoonbills return to Holkham


Spoonbills have returned and bred for a second year at Holkham National Nature Reserve (NNR), fledging 14 young. 2010 saw the first breeding colony of Spoonbills in the UK for more than 300 years. Natural England staff at Holkham NNR were eagerly awaiting the 2011 season to see whether the birds would return, and they were not disappointed. The first returning adult was seen on 11th March and this year the colony supported eight breeding pairs, successfully fledging 14 young. This is an encouraging increase from the six pairs in 2010.

Spoonbills at Holkham (Natural England).

The breeding Spoonbills are part of group of around 40 adult and immature birds summering along the north Norfolk coast. These birds move between feeding sites on north Norfolk coast nature reserves and the Holkham breeding colony. Regular monitoring of the colony by NNR staff revealed that six different birds this year were sporting colour-rings, enabling staff to establish that these birds had come from various sites in Europe, including nests in Holland, Germany and Spain. None of these colour-ringed birds were seen at the colony during the 2010 breeding season. An increased monitoring and surveillance programme this year ensured that the breeding colony was not disturbed.

Michael Rooney, Natural England's Senior Reserve Manager at Holkham NNR, said: "The Reserve team have worked very hard to maintain ideal breeding habitats for birds, so it's really satisfying to see the colony establishing itself — it means we're getting things right. We hope the Spoonbills will join the rest of our breeding regulars by becoming an annual occurrence."

(Video: Natural England)

Holkham sits between Blakeney and Scolt Head Island NNRs and is part of an important network of habitats along the north Norfolk coast, allowing biodiversity to flourish and spread. Natural England manages the freshwater marshes at Holkham to cater specifically for wetland breeding birds. Maintaining high water levels through the spring into mid-summer is critical and has resulted in a dramatic increase in the population of many breeding species. The nesting colony is surrounded by water and is therefore safe from predators, while the presence of pools in adjacent fields provides nearby feeding opportunities for the adults raising hungry chicks.

Despite recent increases in the Netherlands, the Spoonbill suffered a long-term decline in Europe caused by the loss and degradation of its wetland haunts, and numbers are still falling in Eastern Europe. There could be as few as 8,900 pairs remaining in Europe, which holds the bulk of the global population. For this reason, the bird is recognised as a Species of Conservation Concern at European level.

Written by: Natural England