Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Record breaking summer for Somerset's wetland birds

 10th Sep 2013

 Great White Egrets 250Celebrations as one of the West Country’s premiere wetlands produces a bumper crop of rare birds.

Conservationists in Somerset are celebrating this week with the news that the Avalon Marshes has had its best year ever for breeding birds.

Egrets, bitterns, harriers

The Avalon Marshes is a huge wetland recreation site to the west of Glastonbury managed by Natural England (NE), Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT), Hawk and Owl Trust and RSPB.

Following the first UK nesting great white egrets last year in the marshes, this summer has seen two pairs nest; one again at Natural England’s Shapwick National Nature Reserve (producing two youngsters) and a new pair within the boundary of the RSPB’s Ham Wall nature reserve (producing three young)

The RSPB reserve at Ham Wall has also been host to a nesting pair of little bitterns. This is the only known UK breeding location for these remarkably shy and diminutive members of the heron family and this year two young birds successfully fledged.

And, to add to the totals, great bitterns have had yet another amazing year across the Avalon Marshes. On RSPB, NE and SWT land, as many as 33 “booming” males have been heard across the wetlands. This makes the area now one of the UK’s hotspots for this rare and remarkable bird.

Alongside the nesting bitterns and egrets, the wetlands have also provided a home for marsh harriers, with four nests producing thirteen young.

Positive responses

Ray Summers, RSPB warden for Ham Wall said; “We are all absolutely delighted. Since we took on the land at Ham Wall back in the mid 1990s we’ve been working hard to recreate a pristine wetland. To have all these nesting egrets, bitterns and harriers is a fantastic seal of approval for the work we’ve done, it really demonstrates the quality of the site for wildlife”

“We are also enormously grateful for the team of dedicated volunteers who have worked hard this summer to protect the birds and keep them safe from disturbance.”

Simon Clarke, Natural England’s Senior Reserve Manager for Shapwick Heath and the Somerset NNRs, said: “This year’s breeding success at Avalon Marshes is a great example of how strong partnership working can genuinely benefit threatened and vulnerable wildlife species.  The partner organisations have all worked closely together to develop this habitat on a landscape scale. And the result is a safe, abundant and well-managed environment that is providing feeding and nesting opportunities for a startling range of wildlife ­ especially those we’ve seen at Shapwick."

Mark Blake, Reserve Manager for Somerset Wildlife Trust said: ”It has been an exciting year on the Avalon Marshes and we are delighted to see marsh harrier breeding at Westhay Moor for the second year.. The habitat creation and management being carried out by the partners is going from strength to strength and we look forward to further breeding success in future.”

Chris Sperring MBE, Conservation Officer Hawk and Owl Trust, said; “The Avalon Marshes just get better every year. The success is down to a wonderfully balanced and organised partnership, particularly heartening when we see so many new species establishing, and some old friends like the marsh harrier on the rise as well.  The careful management also creates a very human experience, as I found out recently whilst on a footpath with a kingfisher hovering less than 3 metres from me.”

Tony Whitehead speaking for RSPB in the southwest said; “Having all these birds breeding successfully in the Avalon Marshes demonstrates the power of landscape scale nature conservation. If you get the conditions right, the birds will turn up.”

“Wetlands are under pressure the world over, not least, from climate change.. To be able to recreate this landscape in Somerset is of huge significance.. We know that large, well-managed wetlands can act as centres of establishment for colonising species such as little bittern and be crucial in helping them adapt to our changing climate as is being demonstrated in the Avalon Marshes."

Photograph © akwildlifeimages