Hand-reared waders fly 3,000 miles to return to Norfolk

Black tailed godwits are making a comeback at Welney Picture: Archant

Black tailed godwits are making a comeback at Welney Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Birds hand-reared by nature lovers after their eggs were freed from muddy farmland have flown thousands of miles home for summer. Experts were doubtful the black tailed godwit's eggs, encased in soil, would survive.

But despite the dim outlook, the muddy eggs successfully hatched at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's reserve at Welney.

The birds were then hand-reared and released onto the Fens before flying south for the winter.

Now some 16 of the rare waders have returned to where they were raised as part of Project Godwit - a partnership between the trust and RSPB, which is now in its third year.

It aims to restore the UK breeding population by collecting eggs for rear and release, known as head-starting.

WWT's principal species conservation officer Rebecca Lee said: "At a time when there are fewer than 50 pairs, every egg, every godwit counts towards the survival of the species.

"It's been a remarkable start to the third year of Project Godwit. 13 of the birds released in 2017 have migrated back to our sites here in the Fens, joining five birds from the of class of 2018.

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"There was drama last year when heavy spring rains forced some godwits to nest offsite on arable land prompting a rescue mission to free the eggs. For those 'muddy potato' eggs, in a dreadful condition, to hatch into healthy birds and complete their migration cycle some 3,000 miles, is the cherry on top of the cake, or should I say, all that and a bag of chips."

Black-tailed godwits are known to winter as far south as West Africa.

The Nene and Ouse washes in the Fens are the two main breeding sites for black-tailed godwits in the UK.

There are now three pairs of head-started birds at Welney and the breeding season is under way at the RSPB's Nene Washes reserve.

Project godwit manager Hannah Ward said: "It has been heartening to watch the progress of these wonderful waders over the past two years.

"We plan to head-start two groups of godwits, one group will be released at WWT Welney and the other one at the RSPB Nene Washes."

There are fewer than 50 pairs of godwits breeding in the UK, and in recent years they have struggled to hatch and raise their chicks in safety.

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