Colourful creatures are moving north from Europe into a warming Britain … but indigenous rivals risk being lost for ever
Sat 29 Jun 2019 12.00 BSTLast modified on Sat 29 Jun 2019 17.25 BST
Cattle egrets – birds once so exotic we rarely saw them north of the Mediterranean – are now nesting in a heronry near my home in Somerset. Flocks of them often gather in the nearby fields, feeding among Jerseys and Holsteins. They look as if they are quite at home on this side of the Channel – which nowadays they are.
These small white herons, adorned with their orange breeding-plumes, are just one of several species of waterbird to have colonised southern Britain in the past decade or so, as a result of the climate crisis. These include the little egret, which has bred here since the mid-90s, and the great white egret, which first nested on the Avalon Marshes less than a decade ago.
Egrets are hard to ignore: even people who have little or no interest in birds are beginning to notice these elegant white birds in our midst. But meanwhile, a whole suite of wild creatures is colonising Britain by stealth; sometimes passing under the radar until they have established thriving populations here.