Eurasian Bittern in UK - great conservation story

To: "" <>
Subject: Eurasian Bittern in UK - great conservation story
From: "Innes, Angus" <>
Date: Mon, 15 Dec 2014 08:05:59 +0000
Aus Birders, The following report formed one of the news items on the BBC's 
main national news and current affairs radio programme this morning (following 
the 5.58am "Tweet of the Day", a minute and a half of a bird species song or 
call and a brief description of the bird which has been a week-day item for two 
years.) It was fairly simple in concept; the Bittern had disappeared from 
Britain because of the destruction of reed beds for farming and other land 
uses. (This will resonate with Greg Roberts in his current campaign.)  For the 
last decade or so conservation bodies such as the RSPB and Wildfowl and Wetland 
Trust (WWT) and the Wildlife Trusts and government bodies such as the 
Environment Agency and Natural England or their Celtic equivalents, have acted 
in a coordinated and cooperative way to create new reed beds. With the habitat 
regeneration the birds have reappeared. Every year since the winter of 2002/3 
we have had wintering Bitterns in Central London at the WWT's , then, newly 
created London Wetland Centre. The last Bittern seen in Central London had been 
a dead one in Regents park in the 1890s. Elsewhere in the country, where the 
reed beds are big enough, they have stayed to "Boom" and breed. Better not to 
lose them in the first place.

Angus Innes

(I apologise to the Moderators for not being able to find a link - this may 
" Bitterns, elusive heron-like birds once extinct in the UK, have had a record 
year in England with the highest number of individuals recorded since the 
1800s, thanks to support from an EU conservation programme. Government figures 
recently showed many threatened species are still declining, but this story 
demonstrates that it is possible to bring back species from the brink.

Funding from the European Union's LIFE-Nature programme, which supports 
environmental and nature conservation projects, has allowed a partnership of 
organisations including the RSPB to successfully create and restore wetland 
habitats for bitterns and other wildlife.

The EU has also played a vital part in bringing this species back from the 
brink by protecting areas where the birds breed. The bittern was listed on 
Annex I of the 1979 EU Birds Directive, which means that the UK Government has 
to take special conservation measures to reverse declines and restore the UK 
bittern population to a healthy state, or a 'favourable conservation status'. 
The main 'special conservation measure' available is designation and 
appropriate management of the key breeding and wintering sites as Special 
Protection Areas (SPAs). For example, the North Norfolk coast is part of a 
network of bittern SPAs in the UK, five for breeding birds and ten for 
wintering birds. SPA status means that a site has robust protection from 
potentially damaging land-use change.

Male bitterns have a unique way of declaring their territories, pumping air 
through their throats to produce a loud "booming" sound. This reverberates 
across the marshland for several miles, earning the bittern old country 
nicknames like "miredrum". The shy, well-camouflaged birds are extremely 
difficult to find so bittern numbers are calculated by the numbers of booming 
males heard among the reeds. Each year an army of volunteers, landowners and 
nature reserve staff spends many hours tracking down the birds while they are 
booming. In 1997, at the start of the EU LIFE bittern project, they found 11 
booming males at seven sites. In 2014, there were 140 "boomers" across 61 
sites. 14 of these sites are current or former gravel pits, brick pits or open 
coal mines, demonstrating the important role restored quarries and similar 
sites can play in securing the long term future of bitterns and other wildlife.

RSPB Minsmere was the stronghold for this bird for many years. But with the 
effects of climate change such as loss of freshwater coastal wetlands in mind, 
conservationists realised that it would be better if a number of suitable 
habitats were available in areas that were safe from sea level rise, and spread 
across the country, to ensure the bittern's future. A second set of funding 
from EU LIFE-Nature from 2002 to 2006 allowed the RSPB and others to create 
more than 300 hectares of new reedbed, around the same size area as the City of 
London. In addition, 350 hectares of reedbed were restored, and nearly 40 km of 
ditches were restored or created across 19 sites. Now if a particular bittern 
population is struggling, there will always be birds from other locations to 
boost their numbers. This year, the highest number of bitterns were at RSPB Ham 
Wall, inland marsh habitat in Somerset, where 20 birds were booming from the 
reeds. Somerset now has England's largest bittern population.

Further good news is that action for bitterns has also benefited other reedbed 
species such as water voles, great white egrets and rare small dotted footman 
moths. Functioning reedbeds also provide free services for people, including 
water filtration and flood mitigation.

Martin Harper is the RSPB's Director of Conservation. He said: "Thanks to 
protection under European laws and key partners working together, bittern 
numbers have been gradually climbing since 2000. Bitterns needed conservation 
on a country-wide, landscape scale and without the support of the EU's Birds 
Directive, which protects all European wild birds and the habitats of listed 
species like the bittern, this would not have been possible. The bittern 
success story should give hope that it is possible to recover threatened 
species and that it makes sense to protect the laws that protect nature."

RSPB scientist Simon Wotton said: "I've been working with bitterns for 10 years 
and it is wonderful to see how they have responded to the habitats we have 
restored for them. They're amazing birds to watch so it is incredibly rewarding 
to see their numbers growing."

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "The bittern's distinctive 
'booming' call is just one way in which it is a truly special bird, and I'm 
delighted that future generations will have the chance to hear it. This success 
is down to the hard work of the conservation organisations, landowners and 
Government agencies who worked together to improve and create new reedbeds for 
Bitterns to breed in. This shows it is possible to reverse even serious 
declines in threatened species."

Across the country many conservation groups and private landowners have worked 
together to bring bitterns back. For example, the National Trust at Wicken Fen, 
Natural England at Shapwick Heath, and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Potteric 
Carr. Other partners include Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, 
Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Sussex 
Wildlife Trust, Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Simon Clarke, Somerset National Nature Reserves Manager at Natural England 
said: 'The Avalon Marshes in Somerset, including Natural England's Shapwick 
Heath National Nature Reserve, now supports a thriving population with around 
45 booming male bitterns and at least 20 recorded nests, whereas only seven 
years ago there were none. This impressive network of reedbeds and marshes has 
also supported breeding little bitterns and great white egrets in recent years, 
showing just what can be achieved through large scale habitat restoration in a 
short space of time."

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