It was uplifting to learn that Black-tailed Godwits, the elegant wading birds at the heart of the outstanding Project Godwit initiative, have enjoyed a bumper breeding season in Southern England. Below you will find a news release from the organisations involved in the PG scheme for you to peruse at your leisure – surely we all welcome a dash of good news in our age of perpetual, environmental negativity. 


Despite spring flooding and a summer heatwave, this years’ flock of black-tailed godwits has enjoyed a bumper year thanks to a dedicated team of conservationists working as part of Project Godwit. A scheme which combines the expertise of teams from both the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).

When black-tailed godwits returned to the Fens to nest in March weather conditions were less than ideal: in fact, spring flooding covered most of the land the birds normally use at the RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. Desperate to begin their breeding season some of the birds resorted to laying their eggs in a field near to their traditional nesting grounds but conservationists found that some of the eggs quickly became stuck in the wet mud. Fortunately, Project Godwit already had plans to remove a number of eggs to raise chicks in special bird rearing facilities, boosting the birds’ chance of survival. So, working with the farmer who owned the field, the team collected 32 precious eggs from the farmland (in addition to 23 from the nature reserve as planned) and incubated them at WWT Welney Wetland Centre.

Project Manager Hannah Ward writes:

“When we rescued the eggs from the fields we were very worried that the chicks might not survive due to the muddy conditions of some of the eggs so it was quite a nerve-wracking wait to see if any of them would hatch. Meanwhile, our team on the nature reserve worked hard to make sure that when the water receded, there were areas where more godwits could nest in safety away from the flood.”

An amazing 38 leggy little chicks were released at Welney and the Nene Washes once they were ready to fend for themselves. Soon joining wild flocks which included 18 wild-hatched chicks and nine of the black-tailed godwits which were released as youngsters in 2017.

Nicola Hiscock, Senior Aviculturist from WWT says

“We’re thrilled with the progress the birds have made this year. In fact, two of the godwit chicks raised at Welney last year had families of their own which is a really good sign that the method we’re using, headstarting the young birds to give them the best chance in the wild, is working.”

The team were also delighted to find godwits breeding at the RSPB Pilot Project site next to the Ouse Washes, a site they’ve only bred at once before, in 2012.

Some of the birds involved in the scheme were fitted with geolocators allowing researchers to learn more about where the birds travel to in the winter. Research like this means that UK-based conservation teams can work with their equivalent organisations in other countries to ensure the birds have safe places to fly through or spend the colder months. This year ten new geolocators were fitted and two were collected from birds tagged in 2017. One of these showed that a female godwit went all the way to West Africa and back, stopping off in Spain, Portugal and Norfolk on her way before returning back to the Fens to breed.

As the godwits begin to depart for the winter, Project Godwit are calling on birdwatchers to send in sightings of the released birds, which all have a unique combination of colour leg rings. It’s easy to do this on the Project Godwit website: projectgodwit.org.uk and will help the team build up a picture of the important areas the birds need.

One of the major funding sources for Project Godwit is the EU LIFE Nature Programme. As we prepare to leave the EU, Project Godwit partners look forward to seeing how the UK Government will replace this vital source of funding for future conservation projects.

Cover image: Earith at RSPB Ouse Washes, the first headstarted bird to successfully breed.  © Jonathan Taylor RSPB.

Written by James Common

Naturalist and nature writer from North-East England, forever learning. Common By Nature is maintained as an outlet for opinion and personal musings associated with the natural world, and as a journal detailing my exploits in the great outdoors. Enjoy!

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