Bitterns build new nests

ONE of Britain's most iconic birds has staged a partial recovery in Suffolk after its existence was threatened by torrential rain earlier this year.But wildlife experts today warned that 2007 will still go down as a bad year for the country's bitterns.

ONE of Britain's most iconic birds has staged a partial recovery in Suffolk after its existence was threatened by torrential rain earlier this year.

But wildlife experts today warned that 2007 will still go down as a bad year for the country's bitterns.

Heavy rain and flooding over the May bank holiday weekend washed away four of the five bittern nests that had been made at the Minsmere bird reserve on the Suffolk coast.

Minsmere is a vital foothold for the birds - about 20 per cent of Britain's breeding population are thought to live on the reserve.

However the washout left only one nest intact and undid much of the good work in building up the species over recent years.

Since June, however, two of the displaced nests were rebuilt and young were raised.

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Ian Barthorpe from the RSPB said this was heartening, although this year will still be remembered as a bad time for the bitterns.

He said: “Three nests is not enough to sustain the population, and if that was the number we had every year we would be very concerned.

“We won't know the final figures for the number of bitterns in this country until all the figures are collected later this year, but as far as we are concerned the news here is not good.”

But he acknowledged that this year's disaster could prove to be a temporary blip.

“We have to say that three nests is better than one which is what we feared at one stage,” he said.

The number of bitterns in Britain crashed during the first half of the 20th century as their reedbed habitats were lost.

Careful management has seen their numbers, mainly in East Anglia, rise from 11 to 55 in 2004. Last year the numbers fell back again to 44, but until the May floods this year had looked like a very good year for the rare bird.

“Hopefully things will have been better for bitterns elsewhere - we should get the final figures for the numbers in October or November,” Mr Barthorpe said.

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