Floods destroy wading birds' eggs

FLOODING has wiped out this year s nesting season in the Fens for some of Britain s rarest wading birds.Up to 1,000 pairs of waders and ground-nesting birds have lost their eggs or newly-hatched chicks on the Ouse Washes on the Norfolk-Cambridgeshire bor

FLOODING has wiped out this year's nesting season in the Fens for some of Britain's rarest wading birds.

Up to 1,000 pairs of waders and ground-nesting birds have lost their eggs or newly-hatched chicks on the Ouse Washes on the Norfolk-Cambridgeshire border.

Almost 50mm of rain fell in just four days over the Bank Holiday weekend. The deluge put virtually all of the 20-mile-long nature reserve under water.

The RSPB said spring flooding on the Ouse Washes was one of the region's biggest environmental challenges.

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"It's not the first time this has happened. It seems to be happening more and more," said spokesman Ciaran Nelson. "Almost all the breeding black-tailed godwits and three quarters of the snipe in Britain breed on the Ouse Washes. It's the most important lowland site in the UK for breeding snipe."

Floods in the nesting season have caused the washes' breeding population of black-tailed godwits, one of the UK's rarest breeding waders, to collapse.

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In 1972 there were 65 pairs breeding in the area. This year there were just four pairs and these will now have lost their nests.

The Ouse Washes were built by the great Fen drainers 300 years ago, to act as a reservoir to hold excess water between the tidal Ouse, the Delph and Old Bedford rivers.

For centuries the washes did their job and became an internationally-important habitat for waders and migrating waterfowl from all over Europe.

But since the 1970s, our changing climate has led to more regular summer floods and longer, deeper winter flooding. This has frequently led to poor years for ground-nesting birds.

Conservation groups have been working with the Environment Agency for many years to find a solution. In March 2005 Elliot Morley, then a Defra Minister, pledged to tackle the problem.

Ministers agreed to fund the purchase of land for habitat creation outside the Ouse Washes to provide alternative homes for these birds.

The Environment Agency has now launched a habitat creation project, which it says will enable it to continue to operate the washes as a flood prevention measure, while creating new areas nearby where levels can be controlled to allow birds to breed.

Pat Sones, the EA's Ouse Washes Habitat Creation project officer, said: "Spring flooding is bad for the birds of the Ouse Washes. The Environment Agency fully recognises this problem and we're working hard to acquire land to create new habitat safe from flooding for these important bird populations.

"The agency is planning engineering improvements to rivers in and near to the Ouse Washes to improve flood management and help wildlife."

Graham Elliott, Fens area manager for the RSPB, said: "Cambridgeshire is by far England's most important county for wading birds nesting on wet meadows - nearly all the black-tailed godwits and well over a half of England's nesting snipe.

"The new wet meadows at Manea have worked just as we hoped they would but clearly birds from 2,000 hectares cannot pack into an area less than one fiftieth the size of the Ouse Washes.

"This year's floods show how important it is to create large areas of new wet meadows for breeding waders as near to the Ouse Washes as soon as possible.

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