Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Introducing Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits are beautiful, large, wading birds. In the summer, they have bright orange-brown chests and bellies, but in winter they’re more grey-brown. Their most distinctive features are their long beaks and legs, and the black and white stripes on their wings.

The UK is home to a small breeding population of Black-tailed Godwits – around 60 pairs; but the species has had a bumpy ride through the centuries. Historically, numbers of the species breeding in the UK declined drastically at the beginning of the 19th century, to the point where they became extinct as regular breeding birds. This was due to the extensive drainage of wetland habitat, egg collection and hunting. The species returned to breed in the fens once again in the 1930s, but now Black-tailed Godwits sadly find themselves back on the brink of extinction once again in England.

Nowadays, this beautiful bird can only be found at a handful of locations and poor breeding success is limiting the population at their most important site - the RSPB Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, where flooding in springtime and predation are key threats. Most of these birds breed in Iceland and a small number also breed regularly in Orkney and Shetland. In the autumn and winter, the Black-tailed Godwits make use of coastal and inland wetland sites in the UK.

Because of their vulnerable population, these large wading birds are red-listed in the UK and possess Near Threatened status globally, meaning they are likely to be threatened with extinction in the near future; so it’s vital that we do all we can to safeguard them where they breed in England.

Through Back from the Brink, we’ll be working to boost Black-tailed Godwit breeding success at the Nene Washes, a wetland site in Cambridgeshire where 80-90% of the UK godwit population can be found during the breeding season. This work will include:

  • An extensive research and monitoring programme of Black-tailed Godwits at the Nene Washes.
  • Maintaining and enhancing the wet grassland habitat for the bird, providing the right conditions for the species to thrive.
  • A range of steps to reduce the impact of predation on Black-tailed Godwits, with the aim of increasing nest and chick survival.
  • Using colour ringing and tracking to improve our understanding of the local and migratory movements of the species.

You can help by sending in any sightings of colour ringed birds to us through our website projectgodwit.org.uk.

The Back from the Brink Black-tailed Godwit project forms part of Project Godwit - a partnership between the RSPB and WWT, with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, the HSBC 150th Anniversary fund, Natural England and the National Lottery. Together, we aim to secure the future of Black-tailed Godwits in the fens.

Hannah Ward
Project Manager

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