Kingfishers making a comeback in the Fens of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire

Kingfishers are becoming incresaingly common thanks to a helping hand digging their burrows. Picture

Kingfishers are becoming incresaingly common thanks to a helping hand digging their burrows. Pictures: Cliff Carson - Credit: Archant

They flash like blue bullets past the reeds, the crown jewels of our waterways.

A kingfisher with a young pike in its bill.

A kingfisher with a young pike in its bill. - Credit: Archant

Now kingfishers are on the increase, thanks to a helping hand with building their burrows from the Middle Level Commissioners, who oversee the network of drains and rivers which prevent the Fens from flooding.

Engineers have bored holes through the pilings and headwalls which reinforce banks and sluices, to give the tiny feathered fisherfolk a head start getting on the housing ladder.

Tunnels dug by the birds behind the flood defences last far longer than those excavated into peat or clay banks.

Cliff Carson, environmental officer with the commissioners, said: 'When a 50 to 70mm diameter hole is drilled through steel piles or concrete headwalls that have soil behind them an opportunity is created for kingfishers to establish very safe nesting tunnels and chambers.

A kingfisher near its burrow in the Fens.

A kingfisher near its burrow in the Fens. - Credit: Archant

'Natural nest sites in riverside soil cliffs are often quickly eroded and only last a few years but sites like these behind steel piles will remain available for more than 20 years.

'This year has been a boom season for kingfishers in the Middle Level with many more sightings than usual reported from drains and rivers throughout the area.'

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As their name suggests, kingfishers feed on fish. They watch from a convenient perch for the fry of coarse fish like roach and perch, before they crash dive for their dinner. The little birds aren't the only wildlife enjoying a renaissance.

Bat and owl boxes have also been attached to pumping stations, as part of the Middle Level's biodiversity action plan, which is being carried out by the 36 different drainage boards responsible for maintaining waterways and sluices.

Some 79 otter holts have also been built in the Middle Level, with spraints (otter droppings) being found at more than 60 bridges in the system, which stretches inland from King's Lynn as far as Peterborough, Huntingdon and Cambridge.

Just decades ago, the animals were on the verge of extinction because of chemical pesticides building up in the food chain and hunting. Now they are an increasingly common sight on our waters - often close to towns.

Eels, the otter's favourite fare, are also making a comeback, thanks to new fish passes which help them bypass the pumping station at St German's, near Lynn, where the Middle Level Drain meets the tidal River Ouse.