Conservationists urge birdwatchers to look out for 'special birds' after rare eggs hatch in Fenland
Fifteen rare eggs rescued from muddy Fenland farmland earlier this year in an operation dubbed Project Godwit were hatched by wildlife specialists at Welney.
Rebecca Lee, principal species conservation officer at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), said: “Conditions were so bad that we were concerned that they might not survive.
“A number of the eggs that we did manage to collect were in such bad condition that they resembled muddy potatoes. Thankfully, the majority of these eggs have shown signs of life and many have hatched successfully despite our reservations.”
Ms Lee said: “Flooding forced our ground-nesting birds off important nesting areas and they have been laying their eggs on nearby farmland where mud is widespread and tall crops can hide potential predators.
“Thankfully we have been able to work together with the landowners in the area to avoid the worst outcome.”
A total of 32 eggs were collected from farmland as part of ‘Project Godwit’- a partnership between WWT and RSPB, which aims to restore the UK breeding population.
The Nene and Ouse Washes in the Fens are the two main breeding sites for black-tailed godwits in the UK.
Hannah Ward, RSPB project manager at Project Godwit, added: “The decision to intervene was not taken lightly.
“The extreme weather and the dire state of these precious, rare eggs meant they had almost no chance of survival in the wild.
“Luckily, as our project already includes helping godwits by collecting eggs and head-starting chicks, we were in a position to also help these extra eggs.
“With less than 50 pairs of godwits breeding in the UK, every egg that successfully hatches could be critical for the future of the population.
“This was a real team effort and we thank the farmers who worked closely with us to rescue the eggs.”
Conservationists have been using a technique known as head-starting - raising young birds from eggs collected in the wild - to help boost the UK godwit population.
Their numbers at the Ouse Washes are now critically low but it’s hoped that head-starting in combination with the creation of wetland habitat could restore the population to the numbers previously seen in the 1970s.
The Washes were created in the 17th century to be a flood storage area, protecting surrounding farmland and residential areas from flooding when river levels are high.
They also provide internationally important wetland habitat for an array of wildlife.
Conservationists are encouraging birdwatchers to look out for the Godwit birds – sightings can be registered at: www.projectgodwit.org.uk