Posted 25th Jun 2018 by Peter Byrne
21 hand-reared black-tailed godwits have been released in the Cambridgeshire Fens
Many of the birds that have been released were not anticipated to hatch due to the condition of the eggs after the late spring downpours. However, the eggs were successfully rescued from muddy farmland, with the chicks safely raised by conservationists at WWT Welney until they were old enough to look after themselves.
This is a part of Project Godwit, a partnership between WWT and RSPB which is aiming to restore the breeding population of the birds by collecting eggs for rear and release - otherwise known as head-starting.
WWT's Nicola Hiscock oversaw the process - she said: "Even though we began head-starting godwits in 2017, it didn’t make the release any less nerve-wracking. We had a real issue with flooding this year which meant some of these birds literally started life buried in the ground. So to watch them take their first flight is very, very special."
"Over the next few weeks we’ll check on them daily to make sure they’re OK. But then, they’ll be off on migration and we probably won’t see them again until they return in the next year or two".
The fledged godwits are anticipated to join up with other wild fledged birds, spending time in the Fens before migrating to southern Europe and Africa for the winter.
Incredibly, eight of the birds to be released last year have returned to the Fens after travelling south of the continent. Black-tailed godwits are site-faithful, often returning to where they were raised to breed. This typically happens within the first two years.
Hannah Ward, RSPB Project Manager at Project Godwit, said: "Today is a big day for the team and the UK black-tailed godwit population. With less than fifty pairs of godwits breeding in the UK, it’s crucial that Project Godwit boosts the number of young birds entering the population each year."
"The Fens has the largest number of black-tailed godwit nests in the UK, but in recent years they have really struggled to hatch and raise their chicks in safety. We are using a number of techniques to try and help the birds breed successfully in the wild."
The two main breeding spots for the birds in the UK are the Nene and Ouse Washes in the Fens. Conservationists are now using a technique called head-starting - which involves raising young birds from eggs collected in the wild to help to boost the population.
Their numbers at the Ouse Washes are now critically low, but it is hoped that head-starting can be combined with creating wetland habitat to restore the population to the numbers previously seen in the 1970s.
Head-starting is just one part of Project Godwit - it also focuses on monitoring, habitat management and trialling conservation techniques.
Project Godwit is a partnership between RSPB and WWT, with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, HSBC's 150th Anniversary Fund, Natural England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, through the Back from the Brink programme and Leica UK.
The project wants to secure the future of breeding black-tailed godwits in the UK.
Conservationists are now encouraging birders to look out for special birds - you can register sightings at projectgodwit.org.uk
Image courtesy of Mark Whiffin