Fenland chicks good for godwits

Published on 12 May 2017 in News and comment

In a UK first, 26 Black-tailed Godwit chicks have been hatched by conservationists in the Fens this week. The rare chicks will be hand-reared until they are strong enough to be released back into the wild.

It’s the first time that ‘headstarting’ has been used to help a species in decline in the UK and it marks the start of an innovative new partnership between the RSPB and WWT – Project Godwit.

Project Godwit aims to increase the number of young Black-tailed Godwits that fledge from the birds’ two main breeding grounds in the UK – the Ouse Washes and the Nene Washes – through a mix of research and conservation initiatives.

The Black-tailed Godwit could be at risk of global extinction in the near future, according to the IUCN. Fewer than 60 pairs nest in the UK and almost all of those can be found in the Fens meaning that breeding success in the area is pivotal to the fortunes of the species as a whole.

Hannah Ward, RSPB LIFE project recovery manager, said: ‘With most of the UK’s Black-tailed Godwits making a home in the Fens, this region is vital to the quest to maintain and increase their numbers.

‘The future of the species in the UK, and globally, is currently very uncertain and they are ‘red-listed’ on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern. Godwits nest on the ground so they’re susceptible to flooding in spring-time and vulnerable to predators.

‘We are delighted to be starting this five year project with WWT, thanks to funding from the EU LIFE Nature programme, which will allow us to undertake research, habitat management, headstarting, and raise awareness of the species, with the ultimate aim of increasing the population of Black-tailed Godwits breeding in the UK.’

This summer is the first of five breeding seasons during which Black-tailed Godwits will be given a helping hand. Project Godwit staff collected 32 eggs from the wild in April, which were then safely incubated at WWT Welney on the Ouse Washes.

Now the chicks have hatched they will be reared by WWT staff to help them through their most vulnerable time, before they are released into the wild once they are close to fledging.

‘Headstarting’ has been used to increase the number of young Spoon-billed Sandpipers, another wading bird that is on the edge of extinction. In addition to the captive reared chicks, removing the eggs from the nest early during incubation maximises the chance that the parent birds will lay a second clutch and raise a second brood themselves.

Rebecca Lee, WWT Principal Conservation Breeding Officer, said: “We’re really excited to get underway with Project Godwit. Now the eggs have hatched, the staff at WWT Welney will have their hands full for the next few weeks as they care for the chicks.

‘Visitors to Welney will have the chance to hear about the project and see the chicks for themselves from Wednesday 17 May. Details of the special tours are online at www.wwt.org.uk/welney. We look forward to welcoming people and sharing this amazing story.’

More information is available at www.projectgodwit.org.uk.