Critically endangered birds thrown a lifeline thanks to five-year project

Headstarted black-tailed godwit at Ouse Washes

'Earith', a headstarted black-tailed godwit, arriving back at the Ouse Washes, one location where the remaining breeding pairs in the UK are found. - Credit: Jonathan Taylor/RSPB

Over 200 critically endangered birds have today (Tuesday) been thrown a lifeline to increase their chances of survival as they are released into the Fens. 

Hand-raised black-tailed godwits have been hatched, nurtured and released from Welney Wetland Centre as part of Project Godwit through the RSPB and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). 

“We’ve worked incredibly hard to hatch, carefully nurture, and release so many godwits,” Eric Heath, WWT project manager, said.  

“The success of this project is testament to the effort put in by people from both organisations involved.” 

Black-tailed godwit chicks at Welney Wetland Centre

Black-tailed godwit chicks during the early stage of rearing at Welney Wetland Centre. - Credit: WWT

The five-year project has helped the RSPB and WWT collect data, which has seen around five times more birds added to the population. 

More than 200 birds will have been released onto the Ouse and Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, where most of the remaining breeding pairs in the UK are found, through headstarting. 

WWT Welney have collected eggs from the wild through headstarting under licence from Natural England, and incubated them. 

Black-tailed godwit chick at Nene Washes

A black-tailed godwit chick being weighed at Nene Washes, one location where most of the remaining breeding pairs in the UK are found. - Credit: Guy Anderson/RSPB

The chicks that are hatched are then reared in captivity before being released back into the wild when they are old enough to fly and survive to breed. 

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“Headstarting is just one part of a wider picture of how we save the future of these much-loved birds, as well as many other ground-nesting waders,” said Mr Heath. 

“It is clear that one thing we need to do is restore more of the wetland habitat they need to breed and survive over the long term.” 

Black tailed godwit chick in Welney

A black tailed godwit chick, pictured as it prepares to head into the Fens. - Credit: WWT

Many godwits have successfully migrated to southern Europe and Africa before returning to the Fens to breed in recent years. 

But conservation experts warn that a bleak future could still lie ahead for the birds unless more of the healthy wetland habitat they need to survive is created. 

Rebecca Lee, RSPB project manager, said: “There are huge concerns for our waders at the moment, but also many reasons to be hopeful. 

Black-tailed godwit in Nene and Ouse Washes

'Earith', a black-tailed godwit, is pictured. - Credit: Jonathan Taylor/RSPB

“We have some very special habitats in the UK that waders need and play an important role in farming systems, flood prevention and provide an array of other benefits.” 

Ms Lee added: “Working together with government and local communities, we have a real chance to save and restore this important habitat.”