Big boost for ‘booming’ bitterns

A bittern at Minsmere. Photo by Brian Smith.

A bittern at Minsmere. Photo by Brian Smith. - Credit:

One of Britain’s rarest birds is making a comeback thanks to conservation work led largely in Suffolk.

Once-extinct bitterns are bouncing back as a breeding bird, with more than 150 males recorded this year.

RSPB Minsmere, home to the Springwatch series, has more booming males than in any year since 1976.

Communications manager, Ian Barthopre said: “The increase has been driven by work at Minsmere in the 80s and early 90s to understand more and manage their habitat.

“Suffolk remains a stronghold. We have seen an increase of males here and moving to new sites – particularly Lakenheath and The Fens.

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“The 80 booming males around East Anglia still account for a significant amount of the population but they remain one of the rarest birds in the UK. The future is looking more sure but we need to ensure habitat remains properly managed.”

The bittern was extinct in the UK at the turn of the 20th century. Numbers grew to around 80 males in the 1950s and then fell again to just 11 males in 1997. Projects like the carrot fields transformed into wetlands at Lakenheath have helped reverse its decline, and most of the region’s males are now found on Natura 2000 sites protected by European Nature Directives. But with the EU now consulting on the future of the directives, some are concerned about the impact of a review.

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Dr James Robinson, regional RSPB director, said: “Minsmere and similarly protected Natura 2000 sites have been vital in the conservation of the UK’s wildlife, helping to secure the protection and recovery of many of our most threatened species, from bitterns and marsh harriers, to water voles and fen orchids. But now the very laws that have provided these species and their habitats with their strongest protection are at risk of being weakened as a result of an EU-wide consultation on the future of the Nature Directives, with potentially disastrous consequences for threatened wildlife.”

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