The First Great Bustard chicks hatch in the UK for 177 years02/06/2009 12:54:02 Great bustard chicks hatch in Wiltshire
June 2009. For the first time since 1832, the Great Bustard - one of Europe's most threatened birds - has nested in the UK with two separate females successfully hatching chicks. This milestone has been greeted with euphoria by the team striving for several years to bring back the world's heaviest flying bird to the UK.
For security reasons the nest sites, on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, are being kept secret. However it is possible to visit the Great Bustard Project on Salisbury Plain.
Great Bustard Group
David Waters, founder and Director of the Great Bustard Group, said: "This is a tremendous step forward for the Great Bustard Reintroduction Project, the wildlife of the UK, Great Bustards and for me. It has been a hard struggle to get this far. I am exhausted and nearly broke, but to see Great Bustards breeding after an absence of 177 years is brilliant".
At least 3 chicks
During May a female Great Bustard was observed incubating a clutch of eggs. A few days ago they hatched and two chicks were seen following their mother and being fed. A day later another female was seen feeding a chick.
Prof. Tamas Székely, of the University of Bath - a partner of the Great Bustard Consortium - said: "The Great Bustard is a difficult species to reintroduce as it is a long lived, slow maturing bird, but this is a very encouraging sign that the reintroduction trial will be successful".
The RSPB has recently joined the project group. Dr Mark Avery is the RSPB's Conservation Director. He said: "This fantastic news marks another chapter in the struggle to bring back England's lost wildlife. The Great Bustard is the only bird nesting in the UK that is facing global extinction. Establishing a new population here should ensure a brighter future for this Globally Threatened bird, which continues to decline across parts of Europe".
Great bustard reintroduction
The successful hatching of these eggs marks a huge milestone for the project to reintroduce the Great bustard to Britain. The last wild Great bustard chick to hatch in the UK was in 1832, when a female Great bustard was seen with a single chick in Suffolk.
The Great Bustard Group was formed in 1998 and is a UK Registered Charity. The reintroduction began in 2004 with annual releases of between six and 32 birds each autumn. The birds are released under a licence issued by DEFRA to the Great Bustard Consortium (the Great Bustard Group and the University of Bath).
First Great bustards reintroduced in 2004
The reintroduction trial, led by the Great Bustard Group, began in 2004 using Great Bustards reared from eggs rescued from cultivation in Saratov Oblast, southern Russia. The chicks are reared in the Russian Federation in a partnership with the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Evolution and Ecology - a branch of the Russian National Academy of Science. When the chicks are about six weeks old they are imported into the UK and after a period of quarantine they are released on to Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.
First nest in 2007
The first known nest from this project was in 2007, and there was at least one further nest in 2008. However, the eggs from these clutches were found to be infertile, most likely due to the young age of the males. It is widely considered that male Great Bustards become fertile at an age of four or five years, so 2009 is the earliest that eggs were expected to hatch.
18 birds in the UK population
David Waters added: "The Great Bustard is a slow bird to mature, so it has been a long wait to get this far, but this could not be speeded up. A small UK population of about 18 birds has been built up, but it is only when this population begins to produce its own young and becomes self-sustaining that the project can be judged as successful. The indications are extremely positive".
The reintroduction project is being carried out by the Great Bustard Group. The Group has been essentially self supporting from the start, and is funded by membership subscriptions, private donations and through self generated income. It needs about £130,000 a year to fund the whole project which is allowing for a great deal of assistance given without charge by volunteers and project supporters and sponsors. Costs range from compliance with government health screening for the imported birds, through to renting the land at the release site and the costs of monitoring birds.
Minimal government support
Despite the obligations of the EC Birds Directive, the Bern Convention and the Labour manifesto of 2005 to support the restoration of formally native wildlife, direct support from the government has been minimal (less than 2 %). Natural England have assisted with the costs of monitoring the released birds, but the vast majority of the project costs are covered by private donations and the work conducted by volunteers.