25/06/2010
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Purple Heron breeding success a UK first

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The first Purple Herons ever to breed successfully in the UK will be on view to visitors at the RSPB's Dungeness Nature Reserve in Kent this weekend. Reserve staff have set up a 'Date With Nature' viewing station on the reserve's Denge Marsh so members of the public can share the historic wildlife moment.

As this is the first time the UK has hosted a breeding pair of Purple Herons, a round-the-clock species protection team was put in place to give the birds the best chance possible of raising their young. It is not yet known how many chicks have hatched and confirmation will only be possible when the young fledge in a few weeks' time.

Purple Heron
Purple Heron, Dungeness RSPB, Kent (Photo: Brian Harper)

Bob Gomes, RSPB Dungeness Site Manager, said: "We are seeing more frequent changeovers at the nest, one bird returning from a feeding foray approximately every three hours, presumably to deliver food to the awaiting chicks. As this bird approaches the nest, often with head and chin feathers raised, its partner rises from the nest, and after a short greeting ceremony that involves much calling from within the reedbed, departs to nearby marshland. It's great to see."

Purple Heron
Purple Heron, Dungeness RSPB, Kent (Photo: Steve Ray)

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News of the chicks' arrival comes just a day after the Government announced it was calling in the decision to allow Lydd Airport to expand its operations on the edge of the reserve. The plans would see an extension of the runway and a huge increase in passenger numbers with the arrival of Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s. The RSPB fears disturbance to birds and the effect of increased pollution on the site's unique mix of specialist lichens, plants and insects.

Chris Corrigan, RSPB Regional Director for South East England, said: "The arrival of these chicks is a timely reminder the Dungeness peninsula is one of the most important and sensitive wildlife habitats in the UK. When combined with considerable local opposition and the increasingly significant impacts on climate change, it seems only right that the airport expansion plans are given the fullest and most rigorous examination before being allowed to proceed. The RSPB has long maintained that a Public Inquiry is the best and only way to do this."

The Purple Heron 'Date with Nature' starts this Saturday [26th June] and runs through until Sunday 4th July, daily from 11am to 4pm.

Visitors to the 'Date With Nature' event should park near the Dungeness Reserve Visitor Centre, from where there is a one-mile walk to the viewpoint at Denge Marsh. Binoculars and telescopes will be available at the viewpoint. Normal reserve entry fees apply (adults £3, concessions £2, children £1, family ticket £6).

The Purple Herons are just one of many 'Dates With Nature' happening across the UK this year. In all, 60 projects will show people birds like Peregrine Falcon, White-tailed Eagle, Puffin, Chough, Great Crested Grebe and roosting Starlings. To find out more visit www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature

Written by: RSPB