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Hand-reared godwits rescued from spring flooding released back into the wild

PUBLISHED: 10:35 20 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:35 20 June 2018

21 black-tailed godwits were released in the Fens after being hand-reared by conservationists at WWT Welney Picture: Mark Whiffin

21 black-tailed godwits were released in the Fens after being hand-reared by conservationists at WWT Welney Picture: Mark Whiffin

Mark Whiffin

Dozens of hand-reared rare birds which were rescued from muddy farmland have been released back into the wild.

21 black-tailed godwits were released in the Cambridgeshire Fens after being hand-reared by conservationists at WWT Welney Picture: Bob Ellis WWT21 black-tailed godwits were released in the Cambridgeshire Fens after being hand-reared by conservationists at WWT Welney Picture: Bob Ellis WWT

Conservationists at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Welney released 21 black-tailed godwits into the wild in the Cambridgeshire Fens on Wednesday June 20.

Many of the birds released were not expected to hatch due to the terrible condition the eggs were found in as a result of the late spring downpours.

But the eggs were rescued from muddy farmland and the chicks were safely raised until they were old enough to look after themselves.

The rescue mission formed part of Project Godwit – a partnership between WWT and RSPB - which aims to restore the UK breeding population by collecting eggs for rear and release, known as head-starting.

Project Godwit aims to restore the UK breeding population by collecting eggs for rear and release, known as head-starting Picture: WWTProject Godwit aims to restore the UK breeding population by collecting eggs for rear and release, known as head-starting Picture: WWT

This is the second year that the team have released hand-reared godwits into the wild and so far 49 birds have been reintroduced to the Fens since the project started.

WWT’s Nicola Hiscock oversaw the hand-rearing process. She said: “Even though we began head-starting godwits in 2017, it didn’t make the release any less nerve-wracking.

“We had a real issue with flooding this year which meant some of these birds literally started life buried in the ground. So to watch them take their first flight is very, very special.

“Over the next few weeks we’ll check on them daily to make sure they’re OK. But then, they’ll be off on migration and we probably won’t see them again until they return in the next year or two.”

Eight of last year’s released birds have returned to the Fens after travelling south of the continent. Black-tailed godwits are site-faithful and will often return to where they were raised to breed, usually within the first two years.

Hannah Ward, RSPB Project Manager at Project Godwit, added: “With less than fifty pairs of godwits breeding in the UK, it’s crucial that Project Godwit boosts the number of young birds entering the population each year.

“The Fens has the largest number of black-tailed godwit nests in the UK, but in recent years they have really struggled to hatch and raise their chicks in safety. We are using a number of techniques to try and help the birds breed successfully in the wild.”

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