Former quarry turned into haven for endangered UK birds

Nature is reclaiming her territory at a quarry in England that is being transformed into a reserve offering sanctuary to endangered birds.

With its reedbed wetlands, the marshy plain of the Fens near Cambridge has become an attractive habitat for the bittern, which was, until 2015, on the United Kingdom’s red list of most-threatened species. It has also attracted the thickset heron, which is on the less critical but still threatened amber list. 

“It’s really a demonstration of how working with partners — big decisive action at large scale — we can bring species off that red list,” said Chris Hudson, senior site manager at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) Ouse Fen Nature Reserve.

Five percent of the UK’s bitterns nest at Ouse Fen. The reserve’s bittern population is larger than the nationwide total in the mid-1990s, when the RSPB’s list of threatened species was first published, said Hudson. The latest edition of Birds of Conservation Concern was published in December 2021 and now includes 70 species on the red list, more than double the figure when the first report was published in 1996.

About 30% of the British Isles’ 245 bird species are now in danger. Among the new species on the list are the house martin and the swift, migratory birds that fly from central and Southern Africa each spring to breed in Europe.

Richard Gregory, head of monitoring at the RSPB, blames population decrease on changing land use in the UK, Europe and beyond, which deprives birds of food and habitat.

“The decline of these birds might tell us something about a huge decline in the biomass of insects, which has been a real concern for conservationists across Europe recently, and it’s probably a much wider phenomenon,” he said.

“But we also know that when you manage the habitats, when you protect the habitats, and you protect the birds, they can bounce right back,” said Gregory, pointing to the example of the white-tailed eagle, which was extinct in the British Isles in the early 20th century.

Thanks to a programme of protection and reintroduction, this bird of prey is no longer on the red list and today there are at least 123 pairs of these large sea eagles in the UK.

At the Ouse Fen reserve are the once-rare great white egrets and marsh harriers, a threatened bird of prey whose numbers have bounced back thanks to conservation efforts. 

The mix of reedbeds, open water and grassland, opened in 2010, is being restored from land that has served as Europe’s largest sand and gravel quarry. 

“Our job here was to recreate the right habitat conditions that would bring the bittern back,” said Hudson. These include “lots of feeding opportunities to get their prey sources like fish, and particularly eels”.“Once we’ve put those conditions in place, that effectively brings the birds back. ‘If you build it they will come’ is the phrase that we quite often use. Give nature a chance and it will return.” — AFP

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Sylvain Peuchmaurd
Journaliste AFP Sylvain Peuchmaurd has over 349 followers on Twitter.

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