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27-year First!

….black-winged stilt chicks hatch at RSPB reserves in southern England

A rare Mediterranean wading bird which has not bred successfully in the UK for nearly 30 years has hatched its first chicks on RSPB reserves in Kent and West Sussex in south-east England today.

One black-winged stilt chick came out of the egg early this morning at RSPB Cliffe Pools on the North Kent Marshes, and a second chick hatched mid morning at RSPB Medmerry near Chichester.

The other eggs in both broods are expected to hatch later today.

The last successful British breeding attempt by black-winged stilts was in Norfolk in 1987. Since last month when the stilt pairs were discovered on the reserves, the RSPB has organised a 24-hour watch on the nests with the help of a rota of volunteers.

It is thought that a dry spell in southern Spain has displaced the birds to southern Britain. And it is believed that a changing climate may bring these birds more regularly in future.

Black-winged stilts are large black-and-white waders with long reddish-pink legs, usually found in the Mediterranean. They nest in wetland and feed on insects which they pick from the surface of the water or forage for in shallow mud.

“It’s very exciting that the chicks are beginning to hatch,” said RSPB Cliffe Pools warden Andy Daw. He added: “We managed to protect the eggs, but there are still challenges ahead because the chicks will become more vulnerable to predation.”

“Cliffe Pools has ten percent of the UK’s saline lagoons, a very rare habitat which gives the black-winged stilts what they need to breed and raise chicks.”

“It’s been a fantastic breeding season on the North Kent Marshes, and we have recorded record numbers of lapwing chicks.”

“In terms of people viewing the birds, at the moment they are on an island but the water is too deep for feeding so they will probably swim the chicks across so they can feed in shallower waters around the coastguard flats, which may make them a bit more difficult to see.”

The stilts breeding at Medmerry is a tribute to the wetland conditions on the reserve. It is the largest open-coast managed-realignment scheme in Europe, and the RSPB’s newest reserve.

It was created between 2011 and 2013 by Environment Agency and consists of mudflats, tidal lagoons, saltmarsh, wildlife-friendly farmland and dragonfly-rich ditches.

4th July 2014