Bitterns booming in East Anglia but they need your help

Bittern numbers are the highest since the 19th century. ''RSPB Picture  SUS-140205-101744001
Bittern numbers are the highest since the 19th century. ''RSPB Picture SUS-140205-101744001

Britain’s bittern population is booming and more than half of them are in East Anglia.

Numbers are the highest they have been since the 19th century but the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warned yesterday that EU legislation that protects, and even helped create, bittern strongholds like Lakenheath Fen, Minsmere and the Ouse Washes reedbed project, is under threat,

The bittern, a secretive type of heron, was extinct in the UK at the turn of the 20th century. But ornithologists, who check their numbers by counting how many males can be heard making their distinctive booming call from the reeds, say more than 150 have been recorded doing that this year.

Only 11 were recorded in 1997.

More than 80 booming males have been recorded in East Anglia, both at the bird’s traditional breeding sites on the Suffolk Coast and the Norfolk Broads, and increasingly in the Fens on the Cambridgeshire-Suffolk border, particularly at newly-created habitat, including six at Lakenheath Fen.

The RSPB’s Lakenheath reserve was converted from carrot fields from 1995, with support from the EU LIFE programme. Bitterns were first recorded booming there in 2006 and the first confirmed nesting was recorded in 2009.

But the charity says 65 per cent of the East of England’s booming male bitterns are found on Natura 2000 sites protected under the European Union’s Birds and Habitats Directives, together known as the Nature Directives. As well as identifying and designating species and habitats for protection, the Nature Directives provide the legal framework that allows the conservation work to take place.

Dr. James Robinson, the RSPB’s director for Eastern England, said: “Natura 2000 sites have been vital in the conservation of the UK’s wildlife, helping to secure the protection and recovery of many of our most threatened species, from bitterns and marsh harriers, to water voles and fen orchids.

“But now the very laws that have provided these species and their habitats with their strongest protection are at risk of being weakened as a result of an EU-wide consultation on the future of the Nature Directives, with potentially disastrous consequences for threatened wildlife.”

To help protect these laws the RSPB is among 100 European organisations encouraging people to take part in the European Commission-led consultation on the Birds and Habitats Directives.

Visit www.rspb.org.uk/defendnature for more information.