Pensthorpe’s BBC Springwatch stars continue to delight

For three summers, the sight of fluffy balls of feathers taking their first tentative steps into the waters at Pensthorpe gripped millions of Springwatch viewers across the country.

This year, as the BBC cameras move across the UK to set up camp in Wales, visitors to the north Norfolk conservation site continue to be delighted by a host of adorable new arrivals.

And, as the wardens carry out their very own springwatch for 2011, they have discovered one of the reserves' newest parents is an oystercatcher which will be familiar to many of the show's fans.

Already this season, Pensthorpe has welcomed four young avocets to the wader scrape, with another four avocet eggs set to hatch on June 11 or 12.

Three pairs of little ringed plovers – a rare breed which favours low-lying spots – have been spotted nestled on top of eggs while two pairs of lapwings are also carefully guarding some imminent new arrivals.

Mark Noble, commercial manager at Pensthorpe nature reserve, near Fakenham, said each bird signalled an important step in the site's conservation programme.

He said: 'The avocets are the first we have had breeding on the wader scrape for 10 years.

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'We have had some there before but they have never stayed. To have a pair with four youngsters – and another pair with eggs – is incredible.'

But the highlight of the year so far has no doubt been the discovery of a ringed oystercatcher which arrived at the reserve this spring as part of a pair.

A careful inspection has revealed the bird – which welcomed the arrival of its chicks on Saturday – is one which hatched at Pensthorpe during the 2008 season of Springwatch.

'Every year the programme picks out various characters which they concentrate on. That first year was the turn of Emi and Oscar the oystercatchers,' said Mr Noble.

News that one of them has returned to the reserve to breed has delighted everyone. All of the waders migrate to north Norfolk each spring from southern Europe and northern Africa.

'It's the best news we could have had,' said Mr Noble, who said staff had not been able to get close enough to the bird to see whether it was Emi or Oscar for fear of disturbing it.

Pensthorpe has a respected conservation programme which not only focuses on the rare and endangered wetland species found there but also works hard to create habitats to encourage migrating birds to use it as a breeding ground.

BBC Springwatch spent three years at the Norfolk nature reserve where, for three weeks each spring, it delighted viewers with the dramatic goings on of the site's wildlife stars.

For 2011, the show has moved on to the RSPB reserve, Ynys-hir, in mid Wales.

Mr Noble said the absence of the cameras had not stopped Pensthorpe's wardens keeping a close eye on the site's inhabitants.

He said: 'All the team have a passion for wildlife conservation.

'Whenever you see them they have a pair of binoculars in their hands and, as you talk to them, their eyes shoot up to the sky because they have spotted something.

'As far as our staff are concerned, there is still a springwatch going on. They are still doing it.'

By March, the team had already spotted more than 60 different birds.

And the visitors seem just as keen. Workers in the shop are regularly asked about the latest additions and have shown plenty of interest in the returning oystercatcher and its chicks.

Mr Noble added: 'I think, as a whole, we have got a nation of wildlife lovers and a nation of people who want to love wildlife.

'Pensthorpe can bridge that gap. It gives people somewhere to go to start gaining that knowledge and, for people who are already avid watchers, listeners and viewers, somewhere to get out and do it.'

victoria.leggett@archant.co.uk

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