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Critically endangered birds given a lifeline

Words by Smiley Team

A group of hand-raised black-tailed godwits have been released as part of an emergency intervention, which has thrown the critically endangered wetland bird a lifeline and helped increase its chances of survival.

Data collected by a five year partnership between the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) called Project Godwit, shows the number of new birds added to the population is around five times higher than it would have been without these urgent measures.

The great news is that many of the birds released in previous years have successfully migrated to southern Europe and Africa and then returned to the Fens to breed. And evidence gathered by Project Godwit has shown over 40% of all breeding pairs now include one or two headstarted birds, and the UK population is 40% larger than it would have been without this vital work.

How did they do it?

Project Godwit uses a technique called headstarting, which involves collecting eggs from the wild, under licence from Natural England, and incubating them at a special facility at WWT Welney in Norfolk.

After hatching, the chicks are reared in captivity before being released back into the wild when they are past the most vulnerable time in their life and old enough to fly and survive to breed.

Project Godwit was the first time headstarting was used as a technique to boost the population of an endangered UK bird while other methods to save them in the longer term were found. The method is now being trialled on curlews.

With this latest release – the last of the project – over 200 headstarted birds will have been released onto the Ouse and Nene Washes in the Fens, where most of the remaining breeding pairs in the UK are found.

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 “We’ve worked incredibly hard over the past six years to hatch, carefully nurture, and release so many godwits and the success of this project is testament to the effort put in by people from both organisations involved,” said WWT Project Manager Eric Heath.

“But headstarting is just one part of a much wider picture of how we save the future of these much-loved birds, as well as many other ground-nesting waders, and it is clear that one thing we need to do is restore more of the wetland habitat they need to breed and survive over the long term."

Project Godwit is a partnership between the RSPB and WWT with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, the HSBC 150th Anniversary Fund, Natural England, the Montague-Panton Animal Welfare Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, through the Back from the Brink programme. 

Inspired to act?

GET INVOLVED: Join and donate to the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds.

APPEALS: Learn about the RSPB's appeals and where their donations will be going to. 

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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