Bird cen­tre cel­e­brates vi­tal role in fowl’s re­vival

Chicks of the Great Bus­tard hatched at Holt Pound prior to in­tro­duc­tion into the wild

Aldershot News & Mail - - NEWS -

AN am­bi­tious project to rein­tro­duce a large bird ex­tinct from the Bri­tish wild since the 1840s has taken a ma­jor step for­ward thanks to Bird­world in Farn­ham.

The Holt Pound cen­tre has this month suc­cess­fully in­cu­bated and hatched dozens of eggs im­ported from Spain, yield­ing a co­hort of Great Bus­tard chicks that will now be reared for re­lease in ru­ral Eng­land.

The rare fowl is the heav­i­est fly­ing an­i­mal alive to­day, and was once an im­por­tant fea­ture of Bri­tish wildlife un­til it was hunted to ex­tinc­tion.

A to­tal of 56 Great Bus­tard eggs were col­lected from the Castilla la Man­cha re­gion in cen­tral Spain by RSPB staff with spe­cially trained dogs and brought to Farn­ham last month.

Of the eggs that were vi­able, 82% hatched suc­cess­fully, thanks to the ex­per­tise of Bird­world's cu­ra­tor Dun­can Bolton.

“With the Great Bus­tard project, know­ing that we have con­trib­uted to such a mo­men­tous and am­bi­tious rein­tro­duc­tion project has filled the whole team with pride,” he said. “It is al­ways a great op­por­tu­nity when avi­cul­tural skills can be used to aid in con­ser­va­tion of a threat­ened species."

The chicks have now been taken to a site in Wilt­shire run by the over­all project ar­chi­tects, the Great Bus­tard Group, where they will be reared in stages to pre­pare them for a re­lease into the wild.

Thirty-three birds will be re­leased from two se­cret sites later this year. This will fol­low a ‘soft re­lease’ phase which will al­low the birds to gen­tly find their free­dom in stages.

The young chicks will be bill fed with a pup­pet, and the rear­ing team will wear ‘de­hu­man­i­sa­tion suits’ to stop the chicks be­com­ing too ac­cus­tomed to peo­ple.

The long-term aim of the project is to cre­ate a self-sus­tain­ing pop­u­la­tion of Great Bus­tards across the UK.

Bird­world, which man­ages the hatch­ing of dozens of rare species from across the world each year, cur­rently holds the only pub­lic cap­tive Great Bus­tard en­clo­sure in Bri­tain, con­tain­ing two birds, Nel­son and Mor­gana, who can’t be re­leased due to pre­vi­ous in­jury.

The pair ar­rived at Bird­world last year.

Mr Bolton said he hoped Bird­world would con­tinue to pro­vide ad­vice re­lat­ing to the hus­bandry of the ‘enig­matic’ birds.

The pro­gramme of rein­tro­duc­ing Great Bus­tards to the wild is ex­pected to in­crease in pace af­ter DNA test­ing re­vealed the present­day Span­ish birds are more closely re­lated to the his­tor­i­cal Bri­tish va­ri­ety, rather than the Rus­sian Great Bus­tard, which have proven more dif­fi­cult to cap­ture and ex­port.

ALISTAIR WIL­SON AN144594

Mark An­der­son with the Great Bus­tard eggs.

One of two Great Bus­tards at Bird­world in Farn­ham.

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