Which of these 12 birds should be brought back to East Anglia?

Dalmatian pelican, Pelecanus crispus, single bird in flight, Greece, February 2020

The Dalmatian pelican is on WildEast's list of 12 birds which could be reintroduced or restored to abundance in East Anglia - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A list of 12 long-lost or threatened bird species has been compiled in a bid to spark public debate on where to focus conservation and reintroduction efforts across East Anglia.

Nature recovery movement WildEast has produced the thought-provoking list to gauge public opinion on which locally-extinct birds should be brought back to the region, or the more familiar species which need help to reinvigorate declining numbers.

  • DALMATIAN PELICAN: The largest British bird ever to have lived, this fishing giant would be the crowning glory of the UK's restored wetlands.
    Dalmatian pelican, Pelecanus crispus, single bird in flight, Greece, February 2020

    The Dalmatian pelican is on WildEast's list of 12 birds which could be reintroduced or restored to abundance in East Anglia - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • WHITE-TAILED EAGLE: Once a common lowland sight over East Anglia's marshes, Britain's largest bird of prey could thrive in the Norfolk Broads. 

    White-tailed (sea) eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Neil_Burton

    White-tailed eagle - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • BLACK TERN: Once a deafening sound of the Fenland meres, a return of shallow wetlands could see black terns reintroduced for the first time in 200 years. 

    Side view of an adult Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) in flight. Estonia

    Black tern - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • BLUETHROAT: A successful colonist of rewilded lands in the Netherlands, a scruffier, scrubbier fenland could see bluethroats colonise in the near future. 

    bluethroat singing in a rape field

    Bluethroat - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • TURTLE DOVE: Restoring farmlands free from herbicides and a return of more scrublands and wild weeds could yet save the turtle dove from extinction. 

    Turtle Dove at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve. Picture: Ian Burt

    Turtle dove - Credit: IAN BURT

  • BLACK STORK: A bird of wetland forests and beaver ponds, black storks may, in 20 years time, be once again a part of the Broadland wildlife. 

    Black stork

    Black stork - Credit: Angela Sharpe

  • GREAT BUSTARD: The heaviest flying bird was once common in the Brecks, and extensive farming and reintroductions could aid its return. 

    Great bustard, Otis tarda, single bird, Wiltshire, October 2015

    Great bustard - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • CORNCRAKE: A charismatic species of wet meadows once common throughout East Anglia, hay meadows and river valley restoration could see it come back. 

    Corncrake (Crex crex) in summer. Moscow region, Russia

    Corncrake - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • CURLEW: A charismatic species still present in the region, more extensively grazed rough grassland habitat could help this imperilled, iconic and much-loved bird. 


    Curlew - Credit: Lesley Buckley

  • RED-BACKED SHRIKE: A common sight 50 years ago but decimated by intensive farming, the return of dung beetles and grasshoppers could restore the "butcher bird". 

    Red-backed shrike

    Red-backed shrike - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • NIGHT HERON: Formally known as the "Brewe", this once native bird could return to our willow-clad fens naturally as its range pushes northwards. 

    Black-crowned night heron

    Black-crowned night heron - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • WRYNECK: A bird of extensively-grazed wood pasture with anthills, naturalistic grazing could pave the way for the reintroduction of the "cuckoo's mate". 


    Wryneck - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ben MacDonald, a wildlife TV producer, writer, conservationist and author of the book Rebirding, helped WildEast to compile the list.

He said: "These birds are only not here today because we got rid of them. The analogy I would use is we wouldn't tolerate walking into an art gallery where all the exhibits have been taken off the wall.

"We need to be looking at bringing the landscape back to life and the first thing is to rebuild the bioabundance of invertebrates, particularly large invertebrates, in our lands.

"The biggest problem since the 1950s has been the loss of bioabundance.

"Conventional farming in East Anglia in the 1950s would have been home to thousands of tree sparrows, corn buntings, yellowhammers, shrikes, linnets, all of these species would have been present in enormous numbers, so it is not just about biodiversity and these flagship species, it is about the abundance of common species too."

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One of the more eye-catching birds on the list is the Dalmatian pelican, which was lost to East Anglia at least 1,000 years ago. Mr MacDonald said its return was a realistic goal.

"If you look at the marshes of Norfolk and Suffolk, you have the iconic north Norfolk coast which is already under conservation management across Cley, Titchwell, Holkham, all the way down to Broadland and Minsmere, and then inland you've got the ever-growing expanse of Fens in places like Lakenheath," he said.

"I have calculated that if you add that acreage together you get around 390sq km of fish-rich fresh water. That is considerably larger than most sites used by Dalmatian pelicans in Europe.

"There is a very strong fossil record of Dalmatian pelicans into the early Middle Ages and the reason they are not here now is because our ancestors basically ate them.

"It has been gone a long time, probably more than 1,000 years, but it is an important flagship species and there is room for it in Norfolk and Suffolk."


Hugh Somerleyton, owner of the Somerleyton Estate near Lowestoft and one of the founding trustees of WildEast, urged the public to get in touch and share their views about the list.

"In my limited experience, we farmers and estate owners, and some conservation agencies, are very good at talking between ourselves about what we must do, but we are not very good at engaging the public," he said.

"WildEast is trying to invigorate that process by asking what the public wants and why it matters.

"The more people engage and the more they feel they own it, the more they will want to protect."

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