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Bank holiday washout for breeding bitterns

Flash flood drowns nests

Bank holiday downpours have dealt a blow to one of the UK’s rarest birds. Bitterns breeding at the RSPB’s nature reserves on the Suffolk coast have had their nests washed away after last month’s torrential rain led to flash flooding at many sites. The year had promised to be a good one for the bittern, whose population had fallen to 44 booming males from a 50-year high of 55 in 2004. Before the wet weekend, there had been 20 booming male bitterns along the coast, including 10 at the RSPB’s Minsmere reserve and three at the neighbouring North Warren reserve.A survey in May found nine nests, including five at Minsmere and one at North Warren. However, the heavy rain and flooding now appears to have washed out all but two of the nests, with any chicks likely to have been killed. One of the surviving nests is at Minsmere, where the reserve’s famous ‘V’ female is still feeding young. V – so named for a distinctive kink in her neck – has been breeding continuously since 1996 and is mother to a large proportion of the UK’s bitterns. Adam Rowlands, site manager for Minsmere and North Warren, said: This is a serious set back for the bittern. Suffolk has been the engine room of the species recent recovery in the UK with the RSPB’s reserves playing a key role. Anything that affects breeding success here is likely to have a knock on effect across the country. He added: The one glimmer of hope is that the birds did get off to an early start this breeding season and there may still be time for some of them to try again, but it is getting late in the year.Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: Despite our success in recent years, bittern numbers remain perilously low. That one spell of bad weather can have such potential serious consequences is proof of that. Bitterns need large areas of wet reedbed if they are to breed and find enough food. Far too many of the UK’s reedbeds have been lost and this is another reminder that we must continue to create new ones – as the RSPB is doing – if the bittern and many other species are to have a future in our islands.

4th July 2014