Spoonbills rebound as UK farmers strengthen tree cover and wetlands

With its striking long beaks and elegant white plumage, the spoonbill seems to belong to a far more exotic place than the windswept salt marshes of the UK.

But the greater wading bird is booming in numbers as landowners across the country improve wetland habitats and tree cover.

Once common in England and Wales, the spoonbill was hunted to local extinction around 300 years ago. They were killed for their beautiful feathers and their meat was a popular delicacy at medieval banquets.

But in 2010, a colony was discovered in the salt marshes of North Norfolk, believed to have made the journey from the Netherlands and France.

Wandering the marshes to feast on prawns and small fish, they sometimes spent time and nested on the square of Andrew Bloomfield, who runs the Holkham Estate National Nature Reserve.

Delighted with beautiful visitors, he has worked with Natural England and the RSPB, among others, to ensure they return year after year. They now want to double the size of the Spoonbill nesting area, creating ditches and islands with trees to try and keep the colony going. Other birds including several species of egrets will also benefit from the extension. This year they boasted a record 77 youngsters of 43 pairs of spatulas.

Spoonbill in flight
An Eurasian Spoonbill in flight. The species is attracted to freshwater habitat. Photograph: Ger Bosma/Alamy

Now the birds have spread across the UK, and breeding pairs and colonies can be found in eight locations, from the south coast to the outskirts of Leeds. Colonies this year included four sites in Norfolk, one in Yorkshire, one in Cumbria, one in Essex and one in Suffolk.

Bloomfield last week hosted a group of conservationists to see if the population could be further increased and to raise awareness of the birds’ habitat needs so more landowners can attract them.

“We actually get a sense of where they were in the country by looking at the details of medieval estate banquets,” he said.

“It was great to get everyone who had spoonbills in one room. Most of them nest in the trees, but there’s a quirk about every place. You need a wood where herons and similar birds could be nesting, and you need plenty of food nearby.They feed on things like prawns, prawns, sticklebacks, and even eels.

The creation, maintenance and improvement of wetlands create important carbon sinks and habitat for many animals, some of which are the diet of rare wading birds.

“Here in North Norfolk, we are lucky because the salt marshes are in protected areas. Attracting Spoonbills means creating good freshwater habitats, having disturbance-free areas where they can nest and settle, and keeping an eye out for recreational use that could create levels of disturbance that could affect not only spoonbills but also other waders. he said.

Bloomfield said the country was seeing an increase “without a doubt”, adding: “Our colony is very successful, it has been in existence since 2010 and the success rate of young people each year has increased, which has also allowed them to expand to other places.

“All the wetland work that has been done in the UK will play a part in saving many of the birds that are moving across the continent due to global warming.

“We even have Spoonbills wintering in the UK sometimes, which would have been unheard of 50-100 years ago, as the weather is much milder than before. Nature conservation needs to consider new species that we attract due to climate change.

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