Boom time for bitterns

SUFFOLK wildlife experts are today looking forward to a bright future for one of Britain's rarest birds - exactly a year after they suffered a catastrophe on the coast.

SUFFOLK wildlife experts are today looking forward to a bright future for one of Britain's rarest birds - exactly a year after they suffered a catastrophe on the coast.

Torrential rain over the late May bank holiday weekend last year washed away four out of five bittern nests at the Minsmere bird reserve on the Suffolk coast.

But this year reserve bosses are hoping for a real success story.

There are now as many male bitterns booming at Minsmere as there were in the whole of Britain back in 1997 - and there are yet more at different places along the Suffolk coast.

Chris Durdin from the RSPB said: “We have recorded 11 males booming at Minsmere this year. That was the entire population of the country in the mid 1990s.

“There are another three at the North Warren reserve (near Aldeburgh) and there is one boomer on our land at Dingle marshes (between Dunwich and Walberswick) and another three on the national nature reserve next to our land.

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“That is great news - but not all the booming will result in nests. And the concern is that the Suffolk reedbeds will become increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels.”

For that reason the RSPB and other conservation bodies are trying to create more bittern-friendly habitats in Britain.

Bitterns are believed to be on the increase in the Norfolk broads - but there are no detailed figures available.

Now they are hoping to attract bitterns to Lakenheath Fen in west Suffolk and to other reserves being developed in the fens themselves.

Mr Durdin is hopeful of success: “If you get the habitat right, they will move in - but you have to have a large reedbed and well-stocked rivers with a lot of fish and that is not an easy balance to get right.”

Did you know:

Only the male bittern booms - to mark its territory and to attract females - and it can be heard up to three miles.

The boom can be heard from early in the year - this year the first was heard at Minsmere in January - until early summer.

Between 1885 and 1900 there were no bitterns in Britain.

As recently as 1997 there were just 11 recorded in the country. Now there are believed to be at least 60 breeding pairs, mainly in East Anglia but a few on the north west coast.