After facing near-extinction, the Bittern is back in numbers in our reedbeds
Bittern were extinct in the UK by the end of the 19th century and was absent as a breeding bird between the 1870s and 1911, when the first breeding male was recorded.
The bird returned to peak numbers in the 1950s with around 80 breeding males.
From that time the decline began again, attributable to habitat loss. By 1997 there were only 11 breeding males recorded in England.
Concern over a second UK extinction led to a concerted conservation programme which is driving the current recovery.
Scientists count bitterns by listening for the male’s foghorn-like booming song, and this year over 150 males have been recorded in England and Wales.
During the breeding season, the bittern prefers sizeable tracts of wet reedbed – a habitat which, two decades ago, in the UK had become scarce and under managed.
Simon Wotton, an RSPB conservation scientist, comments: “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.