Bitterns booming in Suffolk

SUFFOLK'S population of bitterns has truly boomed this year - helping the threatened bird to enjoy its best nesting season in Britain for 130 years.

SUFFOLK'S population of bitterns has truly boomed this year - helping the threatened bird to enjoy its best nesting season in Britain for 130 years.

At least 11 booming males were recorded at the Minsmere nature reserve on the Suffolk coast during the year - helping to push total number of these birds up to 75 males across the country.

That is almost 50 per cent up on last year - and nearly 600pc up on 1997 when the UK population plummeted to a recent low of just 11 booming males . . . the same number now found in just one reserve!

East Anglia remains the national stronghold with more than three quarters of the UK's bitterns found in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.


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Ian Barthorpe, from Minsmere, said: “This is wonderful news for us - but it is also good to know that bitterns are dispersing across the country.”

Last year seven nests on the Suffolk coast were destroyed in a Spring Bank Holiday washout - but this year the population has recovered.

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Mr Barthorpe said: “The bitterns are now finding new homes and that has to be good if they are not so dependent on one place.”

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's conservation director, said: “The bittern has suffered an ill-fated history in the UK, having endured extinction once and having been on the verge of extinction again in the late 1990s.”

Although currently confined to England, the bittern was formerly widespread across the UK, where it has endured a boom-and-bust history.

In 1886, the bittern stopped nesting in the UK, after drainage of wetlands, and persecution pushed the bird to extinction. Bitterns recolonised the UK in 1911, when birds were found breeding again in the Norfolk Broads.

Researchers believe this year's bumper population is directly linked to the very wet winter, which provided ideal feeding conditions for female bitterns, allowing them to get into breeding condition. Overall, the bittern population is increasing because of large-scale recreation and management of reedbeds.

East Anglia is still the stronghold of the UK bittern population. But, here a high proportion of the bitterns using freshwater reedbeds along the coast are threatened by rising sea levels.

Conservationists hope that the spread of the bittern, including to other parts of the UK, will help to give the bittern a more secure future, away from more vulnerable sites.

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