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Little bittern now breeding in Britain

29/07/2010 10:09:29

Second confirmed breeding in UK
July 2010: The rare little bittern has successfully nested in Somerset in what is only the second confirmed breeding of the bird in the UK. The first was in Yorkshire in 1984. The little bittern is a small member of the heron family that nests in wetlands, making the reedbed at the RSPB's Ham Wall nature reserve near Glastonbury, an ideal location.

Ray Summers, RSPB warden for Ham Wall, said: ‘We are all absolutely delighted. Since we took on the land at Ham Wall back in the mid-Nineties we've been working hard to recreate a pristine wetland. To have a nesting little bittern is a fantastic seal of approval for the work we've done, it really demonstrates the quality of the site for wildlife.'

Like many birds that nest in dense reedbeds, little bitterns are shy and elusive creatures. Ray said: ‘We first saw the male little bittern back in May. Although he kept very much under cover, we could hear him calling and occasionally flying back and forth over the reeds. To our surprise, we then started to see a female. We kept our fingers crossed and kept watching the site.

‘Then, two weeks ago, we started to see the female flying regularly to the same spot in the reeds, a sure sign the bird was taking food to youngsters in the nest - we couldn't believe it. And finally, just days ago, we had the news we'd been waiting for with the first sightings of a juvenile.'

‘Get the conditions right and the birds will turn up'
The little bittern breeds across Europe, Africa and southern Asia to Australia. In Europe over the past 40 years their populations have been in decline. Although the reasons are not entirely clear, it is thought that this is linked to loss of habitat, both in the areas they nest, and in Africa where they spend their winter.

Tony Whitehead, of the RSPB in the South West, said: ‘Having little bittern breed for only the second time in the UK demonstrates the power of landscape-scale nature conservation. If you get the conditions right, the birds will turn up.'

The RSPB's reserve at Ham Wall is part of a huge and ambitious plan to recreate a vast area of wetlands in the Brue Valley. Known as the Avalon Marshes, the project is being delivered by a coalition of wildlife organisations including RSPB, Natural England, Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Hawk and Owl trust.

Tony added: ‘Wetlands are under pressure the world over, not least from climate change. To be able to recreate this landscape in Somerset is of huge significance. Landscape-scale schemes such as these, called FutureScapes by the RSPB, will increasingly provide optimal conditions for creatures such as little bittern and be crucial in helping them adapt to our changing climate.'

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