Endangered bittern booming once more thanks to habitats
THE bittern – a type of heron extinct in the UK at the turn of the 20th century – is bouncing back to full recovery.
Scientists count bitterns by listening for the male’s foghorn-like booming song, and this year more than 150 males have been recorded in England and Wales, making it an exceptional year in recent times, with numbers not thought to be surpassed since early in the 19th century.
Bittern numbers peaked at around 80 booming males in the 1950s, but had declined to only 11 booming males in England in 1997. Concern over a second UK extinction led to a concerted conservation program which is driving the current recovery. The bittern was absent as a breeding bird between the 1870s and 1911.
During the breeding season, the bittern prefers large tracts of wet reed-bed – a habitat which, two decades ago, in the UK had become scarce and under managed. Regular readers will recall my mentions of the amazing job the RSPB and volunteers have done at Leighton Moss, in Lancashire, now a regular stronghold of the bittern, and also a fine selection of some of the UK’s rarest birds, which have also benefited greatly from the management programme, including marsh harriers, bearded tits and avocets.
Leighton Moss is less than two hours drive from the centre of Manchester, and there are many exciting activities year round for all the family.
For example, the telescope and binoculars open weekend, August 28, 29, 30, 31, is ideal if you fancy having a go outdoors without the pressure of the trying them out in a shop, and RSPB staff will be on hand to give you impartial advice.
The bittern is a species which proves that conservation can be successful, especially when you can identify the reason behind its decline and bring in measures and funding to aid its recovery. Leighton Moss is one such reed bed.
Over the last 25 years there have been several more significant habitatrestoration projects across the country, some of which are now RSPB nature reserves, including:
Ham Wall, in Somerset, which was created from old peat workings from 1995. The bittern has been booming regularly from 2008 with first nesting in that year. In 2015, 17 boomers have been recorded at the site.
Lakenheath, in Suffolk: this wetland site was converted from carrot fields from 1995. Bitterns were first recorded booming here in 2006 and the first confirmed nesting was recorded in 2009. This year six booming males are being recorded on site.
Ouse Fen, in Cambridgeshire: This partnership project with Hanson has seen wetland creation former mineral workings, which started around 10 years ago. In time, it will be the largest reed bed in the UK. The first confirmed booming was in 2012, with 10 recorded in 2015.
According to this year’s figures, the top UK county for bitterns is Somerset, with more than 40 booming males. Following the restoration and extensive creation of large wetlands in the Avalon Marshes, at Ham Wall (RSPB), Shapwick Heath (Natural England) and Westhay Moor (Somerset Wildlife Trust), bitterns became re-established in Somerset in 2008.
East Anglia with more than 80 booming male bitterns remains the bittern’s regional stronghold in the UK, particularly in traditional sites on the Suffolk Coast, and in the Norfolk Broads but also increasingly in the Fens, particularly at newly created habitat.
More than half (over 59 per cent) of the booming males are on sites protected under international law; the European Union’s Birds and Habitat’s Directives.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop
●● A great bittern, Botaurus stellaris, walking through reedbed habitat