Intensive conservation efforts have led to a comeback for Britain’s loudest bird. The bittern, a heron-like wader, has enjoyed its best year since records began, says the bird charity RSPB.
Bitterns are highly secretive wetland birds often found within dense stands of reed, meaning scientists must count them by listening for the male’s booming call.
This year, bittern numbers in the UK increased to at least 164, according to annual monitoring organized by the RSPB. A rise from 162 in 2016, the figure is a positive sign that bitterns are making a comeback.
The number of booming males in Somerset increased by two to 49, although there was a slight drop in eastern England, Suffolk Coast, Norfolk Broads and The Fens. Booming was also reported from three new sites.
Bitterns were considered extinct as a breeding species in the UK by the 1870s. Following recolonization, numbers increased to about 80 booming males in the 1950s, but then fell to fewer than 20 in the 1990s. Similar declines have been witnessed in many other countries in Western Europe.
Simon Wotton of the RSPB explained in a statement that this year’s successful return could be attributed to conservation efforts.
He said: “In the late 1990s, the bittern was heading towards extinction once again in the UK. But, thanks to conservation efforts to restore and create its preferred habitat of wet reedbed, the bittern was saved and we’re delighted to see another record year for this amazing bird.”
A combination of legal protection combined with funding through two EU LIFE projects have been vital in aiding the recovery of bittern, according to the statement.
It added that the levels of protection afforded to species such as bittern must be maintained or enhanced following Brexit.
More than half of Britain’s breeding bittern population occurs at sites which currently have no protection.
Photo credit: CC BY-NC-ND/ Richard Towell