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How the bearded tit is bouncing back

PUBLISHED: 11:57 21 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:57 21 February 2017

Theres a reason to be chirpy& heres a bearded tit out and about. Tony Smith, flickr.com/photos/pc_plod

Theres a reason to be chirpy& heres a bearded tit out and about. Tony Smith, flickr.com/photos/pc_plod

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News from those who support wildlife populations is often chilling - but some statistics can warm our hearts, says Sue Bromley

Back in February 2011 most of us welcomed the fact that it was noticeably warmer than the records for that month of many previous years – not surprisingly because we’d been through a harsh winter, with a freezing December making it the second-coldest winter since 1985/86.

It was time to look towards spring, but wildlife experts were to discover the deadly toll of the big freeze. Many birds were among the casualties, and in the case of the bearded tit – one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds – surveys established that the population had halved, crashing to around just 360 breeding pairs.

So, as we like to celebrate good news in this magazine, it was great to learn from the RSPB that The Rare Breeding Birds in the UK report, published by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, shows the bearded tit bouncing back (by 2014 there were 772 breeding pairs, the highest number since monitoring of began in 1995).

Dr Mark Eaton, RSPB Conservation Scientist and Chairman of the Rare Breeding Bird Panel, says: “It is always special to see bearded tits dancing and diving about the reedbeds on a crisp winter’s morning – such a charismatic bird.”

The RSPB and other wildlife organisations take great care of reedbeds at their reserves as this is where some of Britain’s rarer birds flourish. The loss of natural wetlands across the UK has left populations fragmented. Bearded tits were spotted at The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s Calvert Lake in Bucks towards the end of 2016 and at College Lake early last year.

Sightings have tended to be few and far between and following that harsh winter, but we started with the appearance of a bearded tit along the Jubilee River section crossing our two counties early in 2012, a sign perhaps that the population was starting to grow again.

There’s good news, too, for another species, this time the cirl bunting, one of the country’s most threatened farmland birds. With a little help from their friends, the population reached over 1,000 breeding pairs in 2016 – some achievement when you consider that just 25 years ago they were down to around 100 pairs right across Britain.

Much of the success is down to a long-term recovery project run by the RSPB and farmers in the south west. It may only be the size of sparrow, but the cirl bunting is at last ‘punching above its weight’ thanks to the project which saw farmers providing year round food supplies and habitat for the buntings.

As the growing population spreads out it could well be coming our way if the right food sources and nesting sites are maintained. Other wildlife benefitting from the project includes linnets, skylarks and yellowhammer, brown hares, greater and lesser horseshow bats and rare arable plants.

It might be a while yet before we see common cranes in our counties, but that’s not impossible considering there are now small breeding populations of released cranes in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. It’s another remarkable story as for 400 years until 1978 there had been no cranes here – mostly hunting and loss of their habitats led to local extinction where they had once been widespread.

But following reintroduction there are some 160 or so of these iconic and elegant four foot tall birds. The Great Crane Project – a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company – set out to improve the habitat they once called home and released 93 birds in the south west between 2010 and 2014.

Perhaps one day they will become as familiar a sight in our Berkshire and Buckinghamshire skies as the red kites. 


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