New Once Bittern beer launched at Cley

A brewery nestled in the Norfolk Broads hopes its new beer will help persuade one of the county's rarest birds to copy its choice of a home.

Woodforde's, tucked amid the Salhouse, Wroxham and Ranworth Broads at Woodbastwick, launched its Once Bittern ale yesterday, pledging a penny from every pint sold to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT).

Guests supped the new brew and toasted its success in the visitor centre at NWT's Cley Marshes reserve, one of the watery East Anglian habitats where the shy and secretive bittern is slowly making a come-back after near extinction.

The bittern, famous for the male's booming call which can be heard between April and June, is one of

the UK's rarest Red List breeding birds, nesting in reed beds.

Cley has been especially managed to attract pairs, according to reserve warden Bernard Bishop who spotted one flying across the marshes a few days ago.

NWT will be putting its beer money towards projects to help the bittern and the county's other wildlife, such as the development of a new reserve at Hilgay, near Downham Market, according to the charity's fund-raising manager Nik Khandpur .

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Some 35 hectares of former arable land has recently been bought at Gills Farm. The trust rents a further 60 hectares and is working with the Environment Agency on an additional 65 hectares with a view to creating 40 hectares of reed bed for bitterns and marsh harriers.

Construction begins this year and the project will continue for up to 10 years after which NWT will conserve and manage the site for wildlife and the public.

The trust hopes the Hilgay reserve will provide an alternative site for the bittern should rising sea levels lead to the loss of Cley's reed beds.

Ms Khandpur said the support of Norfolk businesses such as Woodforde's was especially welcome in the current economic climate and was a boost in the charity's 85th anniversary year.

NWT, with an annual turnover between �3m and �4m, relied heavily on such support together with that of its 35,000 members, she added. Though membership had not fallen, there had been no increase since the downturn and in the future funding would become more difficult.

'We're hoping people will continue to recognise the work we are doing for Norfolk, not just for its wildlife, but in creating opportunities for people to enjoy wild spaces,' she said.

Other current NWT projects include Wild Norfolk, a �98,000 Big Lottery-funded three-year bid to encourage adults in Thetford, King's Lynn and Yarmouth, who have not previously shown an interest, to learn about wildlife.

And the Living Landscapes initiative which sees wildlife trusts around the country working to restore, create and connect habitats. In Norfolk, these include an area of over 10,000 hectares between Wroxham and Acle.

Once Bittern, at four percent strength, is expected to cost between �2.80 and �2.90 per pint and is now available in pubs throughout East Anglia.

Named and created by Neil Bain, head brewer with Woodforde's, the copper-coloured ale is described as complex, with hints of sweet malt, fruit and warm spice, with a dry finish. Its ingredients include Maris Otter, a malting barley grown especially for Woodforde's on the north Norfolk coast.

Bitterns are wading birds and members of the heron family. They have buff-brown plumage covered with dark streaks and bars and are between 69–81cm (24in-34in) long. They feed on fish, eels, amphibians and invertebrates, hunting in the shallow edges of reed margins.

Males mate with up to five females who each lay four or five eggs in late March and April.

Bitterns are most active at dawn and dusk. The mating call of the male, which is a deep fog-horn or bull-like boom, can be heard up to two miles away. When alarmed, bitterns camouflage themselves in the reed beds, sticking their heads up straight and swaying in the wind.

Last year was the most successful for bitterns since they re-colonised the UK in 1911, according to the RSPB's conservation director Mark Avery.

2010 saw 86 booming males recorded; in 1997 numbers had dipped to 11. Norfolk and Suffolk still hold the majority of the UK's bitterns - 55 out of the 86 - but numbers are rising in Cambridgeshire and Somerset.