Rare harrier in record breeding season

THE rare marsh harrier has had a record breeding season on an East Anglian nature reserve.The birds of prey, which have attracted less attention from conservationists than the even rarer bittern, were on the edge of extinction in the UK in 1971 when the RSPB was aware of only one pair.

THE rare marsh harrier has had a record breeding season on an East Anglian nature reserve.

The birds of prey, which have attracted less attention from conservationists than the even rarer bittern, were on the edge of extinction in the UK in 1971 when the RSPB was aware of only one pair.

This was at the Minsmere bird reserve where, over the past three decades, a great deal of work has been carried out to improve the condition of reed-bed habitat, mainly for the bittern.

However, the marsh harrier has also benefited and a record 28 young have fledged this year from eight nests.


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"We have had a similar number of nests before but the good weather and abundance of food this year has enabled more birds to fledge," said Ian Hawkins, Minsmere spokesman.

He added: "The skies above the reserve have been full of these graceful birds of prey as they hunt for food. It is a fantastic sight to see so many at Minsmere."

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It is estimated that the UK now has about 160 pairs of marsh harriers although exact figures are difficult to calculate because the male bird can have several partners.

Apart from better management of reedbeds, the revival in the fortunes of the bird has also been made possible by the banning during the 1970s of potent pesticides containing DDT and a reduction in persecution.

Mr Hawkins said in other parts of the country, especially the Fens, marsh harriers were moving out in to farmland to breed in cereal crops.

However, this had not happened so far in Suffolk where the marsh harrier was still a bird of nature reserves.

"On the continent it is fairly common for marsh harriers to breed on farmland but it has not happened here until recent years," Mr Hawkins added.

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