Boost for bittern numbers as birds move to inland safety

SUFFOLK: A threatened species of bird is thriving in East Anglia as they move to safe havens further inland.

Researchers from the RSPB recorded 32 male bitterns in Suffolk this year and a further 22 in Norfolk, and they are heralding it the most successful year for the threatened heron since it re-colonised the UK in 1911.

Across East Anglia as a whole there were 62 males – down one on last year – but the fact so many survived the harsh winter is a remarkable feat, claim conservationists.

They are also celebrating a rise in the number of sites playing host to bitterns, which has gone from 43 in 2009 to 47.

Erica Howe, from the RSPB, said: “The number of bitterns in East Anglia has remained fairly constant, but what is very encouraging is that they are moving to inland reedbeds at Lakenheath Fen which are not as vulnerable as coastal sites.

“That is the result of a great deal of careful management – you have to create the right conditions but they are moving in there. Hopefully they will also move to other inland reedbeds from there.”

The RSPB is working with other conservation bodies to create more reedbeds in the Fenland area.

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Ms Howe said: “That does take a long time, several years. You cannot transplant bitterns, you have to create the habitat and wait for them to move in.

“That has happened at Lakenheath. Hopefully their range will now spread further.”

Prior to 1911, the bittern had been extinct in the UK and in 1997 it looked like the bird could again disappear from British wetlands as the number of males plummeted to just 11.

However, a monitoring and research programme introduced in the 1980s began to take effect and as reedbeds were restored the birds began to return.

Today’s newly-created nature reserves, like those at Lakenheath, hold a third of all nesting British bitterns.

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