Bittern baby boom

Once extinct in the UK, the bittern is experiencing a comeback.

Bitterns are listed as an Amber List species in the UK © bereta/iStock

Careful management of the reed beds on which bitterns rely has paid off, with their numbers on the rise in the UK, and with some birds confirmed nesting at new sites.

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A survey of breeding bitterns was carried out by the RSPB and volunteers, which found that their numbers had risen to at least 161 recorded at 76 sites, compared to 157 at 72 sites last year.

The bittern was absent as a breeding bird between the 1870s and 1911, due to habitat loss and demand from taxidermists and egg collectors, and consequently was declared extinct in the UK.

After their numbers climbed again to around 80 booming males in the 1950s, they then dropped to only 11 in the country in 1997.

“In the late 1990s, the bittern was heading towards a second extinction in the UK, largely because its preferred habitat — wet reedbed — was drying out and required intensive management, restoration and habitat recreation,” explained senior conservation scientist at RSPB, Simon Wotton.

“But, thanks to efforts to improve the habitat, the bittern was saved and we’re delighted to see it going from strength to strength.”

The herons were discovered nesting for the first time at Otmoor in Oxfordshire, and in Wales the first next for over 30 years was found at Malltraeth Marsh, proving that appropriate conservation management of reed beds can yield very promising results.


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Main image: Bitterns are listed as an Amber List species in the UK © iStock