RSPB/English Nature research this week reveals the most dramatic annual increase in the population of the bittern, one of the UK`s rarest birds, since this species started to recover from near extinction in 1997. Results show that numbers of this rare brown heron have reached at least 43 booming males, nearly quadruple the number recorded just six years ago, making this a triumph for conservation.
Highlights from the East of England were the first confirmed breeding at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB nature reserve in the Norfolk Broads for at least 50 years; Minsmere RSPB reserve in Suffolk recorded an increase, to eight boomers, for the fifth successive year; and North Warren RSPB reserve near Aldeburgh had two boomers.
Bittern numbers had dropped dramatically in the past as large areas of reed bed habitat on which the bitterns depend were drained, destroyed or neglected leaving many bitterns without a home. However, intensive work to create new reed beds, and better management of existing areas, has helped reverse the previously dramatic decline in the population.
Individual male bitterns are recognised by their far-carrying booming call, which sounds a little like a distant foghorn. Gillian Gilbert, RSPB bittern ecologist, said: The bittern is still so rare that we know each of these birds personally. But these results are extremely encouraging and point to the achievements of recent conservation work. Such progress owes much of its success to an EU LIFE Nature funded programme started in 1996, together with dedicated work by other landowners, including the Wildlife Trusts, to save this species from extinction in the UK.
This work has been additionally supported by funding from the Co-operative Bank, which is the RSPB`s species champion for the bittern, helping towards this species meeting its national Biodiversity Action Plan target: to increase the population of booming males to 50 by 2010.
A new ?4 million project, launched in May this year, will now build on the success of the first project and will see ideal habitat for bitterns developed at 19 sites throughout England. More than ?2m has come from the EU LIFE Nature Fund.
Andy Brown, Head of Ornithology at English Nature, commented: This an important investment as not only does it help to bring back a species that has been pushed to the brink of extinction, but with new reed beds being created and old ones restored, other wildlife has also profited. Reed beds are stronghold for bearded tit, otter and water vole and the majestic marsh harrier has staged a spectacular recovery over the past couple of decades. These results show clearly what can be achieved when well-funded project partners work together to put into practice the results of their sound science.
Gillian Gilbert added: People benefit too for example at Minsmere nature reserve, one of the RSPB`s flagship reserves and home to eight booming bitterns, is enjoyed by sixty thousand visitors a year, many of whom turn up just for a chance of seeing what remains one of the UK`s most threatened birds.
For further information, please contact: Chris Durdin, RSPB Eastern England office 01603 660066, Geoff Welch, RSPB Minsmere 01728 648298, Tim Strudwick, Strumpshaw Fen 01603 715191, English Nature`s National Press Office on 01733 455190. Out-of-hours on 07970 098 005, Email firstname.lastname@example.org or website www.english-nature.org.uk
NB Colloquial names for the bittern include: bitter bum; bog blutter; bog-bull; bog bumper; bog drum; boom bird; bottle-bump; bull of the bog; bumpy cors; butter bump; heather blutter.
Created: 21st Aug 2003
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