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East Anglia shows the way on conservation

Nightjar'Andy Hay (rspb-images.com) ANL-150915-130111001
Nightjar'Andy Hay (rspb-images.com) ANL-150915-130111001

Conservation work in East Anglia has helped get three rare birds taken off the list of most endangered species.

The latest assessment of the status of the UK’s 244 bird species – Birds of Conservation Concern 4 – shows the bittern, nightjar and dunlin have been removed from the UK’s Red List of birds of highest conservation concern and moved to the Amber List, reflecting their improved status. But 15 new species have been added to the Red List.

Bittern (RSPB Images Andy Hay) ENGSUS00120130401132651
Bittern (RSPB Images Andy Hay) ENGSUS00120130401132651

Both bittern and nightjar owe their improved conservation status to targeted actions that have triggered a boost in numbers.

Eastern England is home to more than half of the UK’s bitterns, a type of heron extinct in the UK at the turn of the 20th Century and famous for its booming call.

In 1997, bitterns were heading towards a second extinction with only 11 booming males recorded in England. Bitterns are just one of the species that has benefitted from protection and resources made available under the EU Nature Directives in the form of Special Protection Areas and EU LIFE Programme funding for conservation.

This year, 150 booming males were counted in England and Wales, more than at any time since the early 19th Century, with the RSPB’s Lakenheath Fen and Minsmere being breeding hotspots for them.

The nightjar, a nocturnal hawk-like bird of heaths, moorlands and woods, has benefited from a programme of concentrated and targeted conservation work, but while its status in the UK has improved, more needs to be done to achieve a stable population for the bird in its Eastern stronghold of The Brecks, where 10 per cent of all the UK’s nightjars have their home.

Woodlark, another species for which The Brecks is home to a significant proportion of the UK population (25 per cent), has moved from the Amber to Green lists after benefiting from improved land management, especially of healthland, and are joined on the Green list by reedbed specialist the bearded tit, which breeds in significant numbers in the wetlands of The Broads and the Suffolk and North Norfolk coasts and is seen at Lakenheath Fen.

John Sharpe, RSPB conservation manager for eastern England: “Where conservation efforts are targeted and adequately resourced we can successfully help turn around the fortunes of some of our rarest wildlife – the EU Nature Directives enable us to do that.”

But with 67 species now on the Red List there are 15 more in danger than the previous assessment in 2009, with the curlew, puffin and nightingale among those added.

John Sharpe: “There is much more that we could and should be doing if we are serious about reversing the drastic decline in wildlife we are currently experiencing across all species, not only birds, but the success of targeted conservation in protected areas offers a ray of hope for saving species in the wider landscape and countryside.

“In The Brecks, wildlife friendly farming and land management, supported by funding from Countryside Stewardship, has already helped to save stone-curlews from extinction in the UK, so we know it can be done, the question now is will it?”

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