Godwits hand-reared at Welney Wetlands Centre found safe and sound in Portugal

PUBLISHED: 12:07 10 February 2018

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

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

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Two black-tailed godwits from Fenland that were among the first ever British wading birds to be released into the wild under a new conservation technique have been spotted alive and well – 1,200 miles away in Portugal.

The Project Godwit team. Picture: RSPBThe Project Godwit team. Picture: RSPB

The birds, hand-reared at Welney Wetlands Centre, were among 26 that conservationists hatched and reared by hand before releasing under a process known as ‘headstarting’.

After release the birds joined wild flocks and this is the first time any of them have been outside the UK.

Dutch ornithologists reported seeing the birds among a flock on the Tagus Estuary near Lisbon.

The team from RSPB and WWT behind “Project Godwit” has welcomed the news that their protégés have migrated safely.

A Project Godwit headstarted bird at WWT Steart Marshes with rings. Picture: Joe Cockram.A Project Godwit headstarted bird at WWT Steart Marshes with rings. Picture: Joe Cockram.

Project Godwit manager Hannah Ward said: “Bird migration is an amazing feat and it’s fraught with dangers. These two godwits were last seen on opposite sides of the UK, one in Essex and the other in Somerset.

“It’s a huge relief to hear they have both made it to the same spot in Portugal safe and sound.”

She said as the birds were still less than a year old, they would probably not attempt return to the UK to breed this year.

“But older godwits should be setting off right now,” she said. “We’re appealing to all birdwatchers to keep their eyes out for marked birds.”

A Project Godwit headstarted bird at WWT Steart Marshes with rings. Picture: Joe Cockram.A Project Godwit headstarted bird at WWT Steart Marshes with rings. Picture: Joe Cockram.

Project Godwit birds have coloured leg rings so they can be identified.

“Every bit of news helps us create a brighter future for the UK black-tailed godwits.”

The “headstarting” process involves taking eggs from nests to hatch and rear in safety until they are able to fly and fend for themselves. It is used to bolster wildlife populations that are dangerously low, such as the UK breeding population of black tailed godwits which is down to just 50 pairs.

It has been used successfully to help spoon-billed sandpipers in the Russian Far East, but Project Godwit is the first time headstarting has been used in the UK.

Project Godwit is a partnership between RSPB and WWT with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, The HSBC 50th Anniversary Fund, Natural England and the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Back from the Brink programme.

The project, which is also looking into the dangers facing godwits, aims to secure their future in the UK.

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