Image credit: Pixabay
If you were asked to name the UK’s rarest birds, you’d probably list large charismatic woodland species such as the capercaillie, or birds which have been lost from our landscapes such as nightingales and marsh harriers. The black tailed godwit would probably not be the first to spring to mind. Thankfully their numbers are on the up, but they aren’t out of the woods yet.
During the 19th century, the species declined rapidly across its range and this led to them becoming extinct in the UK as resident breeding birds. This drastic decline can partly be blamed on the draining of natural wetlands such as the Fens in Cambridgeshire when they were converted for agricultural purposes. Thankfully the UK is currently home to a small population of approximately 60 breeding pairs that can be found across two main sites, the Nene Washes and Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire, which were naturally recolonised by birds from the Netherlands.
Due to their small populations, the birds are unfortunately still at risk of extinction and so a long-term conservation project, called Project Godwit has been working tirelessly to save these waders. As well as small population size, the limited number of sites the birds are found in threaten their future, which is why they are being carefully monitored so intensively to ensure that the early warning signs of potential declines are noticed before it is too late. Thanks to funding from EU Life and a number of other sources, partnerships between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) means that the future of these birds in the UK is currently secured.
Project Godwit has a number of project aims, such as increasing the productivity of black-tailed godwits, which is achieved by a number of methods such as fencing out predators and head starting chicks. Maintenance of the habitat is also vital for the birds to both breed and thrive by providing plenty of food. All of the birds are ringed to allow the researchers to better understand the migratory movements of the birds throughout their range, which, so far, has been quite successful, but there is still lots more to learn. Despite the challenges that the birds have faced in the past it now seems that, due to this intervention, their presence in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere in the UK has been secured.
In summary, the future is bright for black-tailed godwits in the UK. Large landscape scale conservation initiatives such as the Great Fen Project will help to provide more habitat for these wonderful birds in their former range. Current conservation efforts are helping the birds to thrive and hopefully, in the near future, we will see them populate other suitable wetlands across the country.