Wetlands trust seeks council permission to extend rare bird scheme

An adult black-tailed godwit. Picture: David Morris / RSPB

An adult black-tailed godwit. Picture: David Morris / RSPB - Credit: David Morris (RSPB)

A wetlands reserve on the western edge of Norfolk is hoping for permission to extend a half-decade-long project aimed at conserving a rare species of shorebird.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s (WWT) Welney reserve, near Downham Market, has applied for permission from West Norfolk Borough Council to continue using temporary enclosures to rear black-tailed godwits.

The birds, which were once widespread in East Anglia, became extinct in Britain when the fens were drained in the 17th century, but returned in the 1950s and chose the Ouse Washes as their main breeding ground. 

Welney Wetland Centre, near Wisbech, will reopen on Wednesday, June 10. Picture: WWT Welney Wetland

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Welney - Credit: Archant

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature currently lists the black-tailed godwit - which is the national bird of the Netherlands - as being ‘near-threatened’ globally, with a 2016 estimate putting their world population at between 634,000 and 805,000.

Along with the RSPB, the WWT has been completing a ‘headstarting’ project with the birds for more than five years now

According to the trust, headstarting “involves collecting eggs from the wild, hatching the eggs in captivity, rearing the chicks until they are ready to fly, and then releasing them back into the wild.”

The trust said the project had so far “significantly improved the conservation status of the Ouse population” of the godwits.

A black-tailed godwit day-old chick, Picture: Will Meinderts

A black-tailed godwit day-old chick, Picture: Will Meinderts - Credit: Will Meinderts

“As of August 2021, 155 birds have been reared in captivity and released, and they are surviving, migrating and breeding just like their wild-reared counterparts,” the trust added. 

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The EU-funded project had originally been scheduled to run from October 2016 to December 2021 but the trust said the pandemic had forced them to pause in 2020.

The WWT has been using three temporary enclosures to house the birds, as well as a portacabin used from April to July for incubation and early-stage rearing.

The trust currently has permission to keep the enclosures and portacabin up until May of this year but are requesting approval to keep the structures up for a further year from then, to allow time for the project to finally conclude at the end of 2022, and time in early 2023 for the pens and equipment to be packed away. 

The council is set to issue a decision on the request by March 21.