Posted 11th May 2018 by Peter Byrne
The April deluge forced thousands of birds to nest away from their safe wetland habitats after the Fens in East Anglia became submerged
This led to conservationists facing a race against time to save a clutch of black-tailed godwit eggs, which were discovered on nearby farmland, trapped in mud. However, thankfully the efforts of farmers and conservationists proved successful, as they worked together to save the eggs.
There were 32 eggs collected from the arable land which are now in incubators at Welney, as part of the Project Godwit - the partnership between WWT and RSPB which is aiming to increase the numbers of the birds.
Hannah Ward, RSPB Project Manager at Project Godwit, said: "The Nene and Ouse Washes in The Fens are two of just a handful of sites in the UK where black-tailed godwit breed."
"Historically, they nest on the washes, but the high water has forced them onto wheat fields where eggs have been fused to the mud and the tall crops conceal potential predators. Due to the conditions these eggs have been subjected to, we are anticipating a reduction in the numbers of eggs that hatch."
A technique known as head-starting has been used - this is when young birds are raised from eggs which are collected in the wild - in an attempt to boost the UK population.
Numbers at the Ouse Washes are critically low, but it hoped head-starting, along with creating wetland habitats, will restore the population to numbers seen in the 1970s.
The Ouse and Nene Washes in the Fens are both artificial wetlands which were created in the 18th century, to help drain the surrounding land for farming.
Leigh Marshall, the centre manager at WWT Welney, said: "The change in climate, as well as pressures from increased run-off from housing developments upstream, means we are getting excess water later in the year, particularly when ground nesting birds are using the Ouse and Nene Washes in spring and early summer."
"Flooding traditionally used to occur in the winter but over the past twenty years we are seeing an increasing shift into the spring, affecting two wetlands which are the most important sites for breeding waders in the UK. The provision of more sustainable drainage systems along the catchment area, would help wetlands sites like the Ouse and Nene Washes."
In an attempt to address this, a nature reserve has been created next to WWT Welney adjacent to the Ouse Washes, offering godwits a safe breeding area. Similar sites are being created by the RSPB at other spots around the washes.
If you happen to spot one of these special birds, conservationists are encouraging you to let them know - this can be done here: projectgodwit.org.uk
Image courtesy of Bob Ellis / WWT