In the best year for British bitterns since records began, the species has come home to roost at Natural England’s Stodmarsh NNR, near Canterbury. Staff and volunteers spent an anxious summer watching the adult birds coming and going, but were finally rewarded on 28th August when they saw a female leading three juveniles through the marsh. The youngsters remained on the Reserve for about three weeks before heading for their winter roosts.
Bitterns are highly secretive wetland birds and live most of their time within dense stands of reed, making them very difficult to spot. The males have an amazing call where they fill their gullets with air that they release to make a booming ‘song’ which can be heard several kilometres away. The bittern has had a rollercoaster history in Britain, as the bird was extinct as a nesting species between 1886 and 1911, when it re-colonised the Norfolk Broads. The breeding success at Stodmarsh this year is due to changes in the management of the Reserve.
Bittern © Dean Eades, from the surfbirds galleries.
Natural England’s Kent Reserves Manager, Becky Plunkett said “It’s terrific to hear the males booming in the long, summer evenings. We’ve made changes to the way the water levels are being managed and cut back some of the reeds to create areas of young reed growth that the bitterns like. This work has taken place over the last couple of years and it’s this year that everything has come together at the right time. Having the bitterns breeding here again is a great reward for the staff and volunteers for all their hard work.”
About Stodmarsh NNR
The Reserve is home to an internationally-important mixture of reed beds, fens, ditches, wet grassland and open water spreading out over the north Kent plain within the Stour valley, and bordered on one side by the River Great Stour. The site is especially important for rare species such as bittern, marsh harriers and the shining ramshorn snail, as well as that iconic British mammal, the water vole. There are over 6 km of footpaths, including a circular walk around the whole site. There are short and long easy access ‘sensory’ trails at the Stodmarsh end of the reserve, both with wheelchair access.