Bittern numbers continuing to climb - survey finds

The rare and elusive bittern.

The rare and elusive bittern. - Credit: Andy Hay (

Numbers for one of East Cambridgeshire’s rarest birds have started to bounce back, according to wildlife experts.

The RSPB has announced the highest number of “booming” male bitterns recorded since the 19th century in the UK.

But although parts of East Cambs provide the perfect habitat for the elusive heron-like bird, numbers in the county are yet to climb to the same level as England’s south west.

The bird has been recorded at both Roswell Pits, in Ely, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and Wicken Fen.

The bittern was driven to extinction in the UK in 1886, but managed to recolonise the Norfolk Broads in 1911.

But while numbers rose until the 1950s they then crashed to a low point in 1997.

The latest survey by the RSPB has revealed there were 140 booming males across 61 sites this year in the UK, up from just 11 males at seven sites in 1997.

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Martin Harper, director of conservation at the RSPB, said: “Thanks to protection under European laws and key partners working together, bittern numbers have been gradually climbing since 2000.

“The bittern success story should give hope that it is possible to recover threatened species and that it makes sense to protect the laws that protect nature.”

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “The bitterns distinctive ‘booming’ call is just one way in which it is a truly special bird, and I’m delighted that future generations will have a chance to hear it.

“This success is down to the hard work of the conservation organisations, landowners and Government agencies who worked together to improve and create new reedbeds for bitterns to breed in.”