'Project Godwit' sees 25 rare birds released into the Cambridgeshire Fens by the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Welney
PUBLISHED: 10:27 13 June 2017 | UPDATED: 10:27 13 June 2017
Twenty-five rare black-tailed godwits were released into their new home in the Cambridgeshire Fens on Monday by conservationists from RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) as part of 'Project Godwit'.
After the eggs were removed from nests and hatched in incubators, staff at WWT Welney Wetland Centre hand-reared the young birds until they were old enough to look after themselves.
It’s the first time the conservation technique, known as ‘headstarting’, has been used in the UK.
The surrogate human ‘parents’ have been able to safely raise far more chicks than the godwits themselves, away from the dangers of predators and flooding.
And, crucially, by removing the eggs from their nests early, they have prompted each pair of godwits to lay a second clutch, giving the parent birds a chance to raise a brood of their own.
Now the hand-reared birds have been released, they are expected to meet up with other black-tailed godwits hatched in the area this summer, and spend several weeks feeding on the rich wetlands before starting their migration to Spain, Portugal and West Africa.
Their human carers will keep a close eye on them via telescopes and radio tags in order to monitor their progress.
WWT’s Nicola Hiscock, who has overseen the process, said: “It has been a nerve-wracking day, but I’m delighted to say that all the godwits have now taken their first flights in the open air and started to explore.
“The biggest worry for us is that they’d fly off somewhere unsuitable for them, but we have observed several birds in the wetlands here at WWT Welney, which is their ideal habitat.
“Over the next few weeks we’ll keep a daily check on them. But then, they’ll be off on migration and we probably won’t see them again until they return to breed in two years’ time.”
Hannah Ward from the RSPB manages Project Godwit. She said: “We’re delighted with how well this first year has gone. This is essentially still the pilot year and we hope to continue to headstart godwit chicks each summer for the next four years.
“The Fens has far and away the biggest number of black-tailed godwit nests in the UK, but in recent years they have really struggled to hatch and raise their chicks in safety.”