What is a Black-tailed Godwit?
In coastal lagoons and estuaries, or a few wetlands such as the Washes in Cambridgeshire, you might spot a large wading bird with an unfeasibly long, straight beak. The female’s beak is longer than the male’s – which means they don’t compete for the same food.
These birds are threatened with global extinction in the near future. The UK is home to a small breeding population, of around 60 pairs.
Why are they in trouble?
These birds need wetlands to breed. Land drainage, habitat loss and hunting, over many years, eventually caused their loss as a breeding species. From the 1950s they bred regularly again on the Ouse Washes, later colonising the nearby Nene Washes. These tiny populations are very vulnerable to spring flooding, which can wash away their ground nests, as well as predation of eggs and chicks.
How we helped the Black-tailed Godwit
This Back from the Brink partnership project was delivered by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). Through this partnership, we created 8 new wet features called “scrapes” helping to ensure the birds always have wet areas for feeding, even in drier years. We also installed and upgraded over 7km of permanent anti-predator fencing to reduce predation by foxes and badgers, of the eggs and chicks of black-tailed godwits and other ground-nesting birds.
We trialled the use of temporary electric fencing and found a design that increased nest survival and successfully trialled head-starting, an innovative technique for the restoration of small wader populations. In total, 155 birds were reared in captivity and released, and they are surviving, migrating, and breeding just like their wild-reared counterparts.
We monitored breeding pairs, nests, chicks and predators to help us work out what factors were impacting breeding success and tracked birds on migration using colour-rings and geolocators, identifying staging and wintering sites in 10 flyway countries and confirming the importance of the Tagus Estuary in Portugal.
The project was taken to the local community through talks, guided tours and outreach sessions at local primary schools, and we informed an estimated 7 million people about Black-tailed Godwits and the importance of wet grasslands through national and local television features, radio interviews and news articles
The results from this project were shared with researchers and conservationists at conferences and in published scientific papers.
What we achieved
We improved the conservation status of breeding Black-tailed Godwit in the UK by increasing the population size at the Nene and Ouse Washes from 38 to 53 pairs; by helping the birds colonise more areas on or adjacent to the Ouse Washes; and by improving habitat and anti-predator infrastructure to help breeding success in future.
RSPB and WWT’s work to save Black-tailed Godwits will continue as part of the EU LIFE funded Project Godwit. Visit the project website at www.projectgodwit.org.uk.