Somerset retains position as Britain’s bittern stronghold, as the population of the mysterious and elusive wetland bird keeps on booming

Bittern. Photo: Tim Stenton

Somerset Wildlife Trust are pleased to say that following its annual spring Bittern count, 11 booming Bittern males were recorded on their Westhay Moor, Westhay Heath and Catcott Nature Reserves  – the highest number since surveying on these sites began.  This brought the total for the Avalon Marshes to 50 Bittern and 55 for the county.  This serves as further evidence that the meticulous land and water level management that has taken place over the years pays huge dividends for these very special birds – as well as the other wetland bird and wildlife species that call these places home.

Mark Blake, the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Senior Reserves Manager, had this to say:

“It seems unimaginable now that there was only a total of 11 males across the whole of the UK when the population of this elusive bird’s population reached its low point in 1997 – with most in East Anglia and Lancashire and just one other pair found in the Chew Valley for a time in the 1990s.  It is fantastic that the numbers of these heron like birds continue to remain strong, and is testament to the incredible amount of work that has invested by us and others in the Avalon Marshes partnership (who also report excellent numbers on their reserves) over the years to ensure that the feeding and nesting habitats that support them are kept in perfect health and remain resilient. Somerset really is the stronghold for this amazing bird.”

How do we do it?  To record these birds and have an understanding of how their population are faring, a large number of volunteers are paired up at 5am to survey at different points across the Avalon Marshes reserves to listen out for the distinctive ‘boom’.  Each time a boom is heard, the location is plotted on a map of the area which is split into grid square. All the information from each pair is collected and correlated to identify how many individuals are present based on the location of booms heard.