Britain’s Bitterns Respond Positively to Conservation Efforts

Considered to be on the brink of extinction in Britain just over a decade ago, the bittern has made a remarkable come-back, with the species enjoying its best recorded nesting season in the past 130 years. The loud “booming” mating call of the bittern assisted conservationists in tracking the birds, resulting in a count of 75 males, an astonishing 47 percent increase on last year’s numbers and nearly seven times as many as the 11 which were counted in 1997.

This is, of course, excellent news for conservationists and bird lovers who are making efforts to counteract the negative impact of climate changes, habitat loss and other factors threatening bird-life on our planet. The figures that were released by the RSPB and Natural England are evidence of the success of conservation work that has focused on restoring the bittern’s freshwater reedbed habitat. Much of the bittern’s traditional nesting spots have been concentrated in the coastal areas of East Anglia, however these are being threatened by the slow, but steady, rise in sea levels prompting conservationists to establish inland wetland sites as an alternative habitat for these shy wading birds. The bitterns have responded to the efforts being made on their behalf by widening out their range to incorporate ten English counties, including a newly-created site in Somerset, compared to last year’s eight nesting locations and only four in 1997.

Bitterns feed on insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians that are found in the marshy areas they favor as breeding grounds. It is believed that the habitat conservation efforts, coupled with the wet weather which created excellent feeding conditions, have resulted in the females being in good breeding condition.

In the late 19th century bitterns had disappeared from the U.K. as a result of the wetlands being drained, but they re-colonized in 1911 and were found breeding in the Norfolk Broads. Currently, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge-shire are home to around three-quarters of the bittern population in the U.K. RSPB conservation director, Dr. Mark Avery acknowledges that the bittern has had a rather “ill-fated history” in the U.K. with the 19th century extinction, as well as the near extinction in the late 1990s. The efforts being made by the RSPB and associated conservationists in a bid to ensure that this bird never faces extinction again, has benefited a wide range of other wildlife too.