16th September 2019
Bitterns back from the brink of extinction as 102 male bitterns recorded on RSPB reserves for the first time.
Britain’s loudest bird has enjoyed its best year since records began, according to a new survey by the RSPB.
Conservationists are heralding the success of a project to bring bitterns (a type of heron) back from the brink of extinction.
Bitterns are highly secretive despite their claim to fame as Britain’s loudest bird. With their well camouflaged, pale, buffy-brown plumage, bitterns spend most of their time hiding in dense stands of reed and are so elusive scientists count them by listening for the males’ distinctive booming call.
Since 2006, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of bitterns making their home in Britain. This year numbers reached record levels once more with 198 males recorded at 89 sites. This compares to 188 at 82 sites in 2018.
They had completely disappeared in Britain by the 1870s, before recolonising early in the 20th century. However, they found themselves back on the brink in 1997 when numbers dropped to 11 males.
Simon Wotton, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist, said: “Bitterns are one our most charismatic birds. Their astonishing recovery from the brink of extinction is a real conservation success story and example of what is possible through targeted efforts to restore wildlife habitat.
“It’s a delight to hear their distinctive booming call echoing across the reedbeds every year as more and more bitterns are making new or restored wetlands their home.”
Two EU LIFE funded projects helped reinvigorate the bittern population, alongside the legal safeguards in place within Special Protection Areas (SPAs).But the number of SPAs has not increased for 20 years, despite plans to designate more SPAs as bitterns arrived in their newly created habitats.