04 June 2009
First Great Bustard chicks born in UK since 1832
The Great Bustard Group has been working to reintroduce the Great Bustard to the UK since 1998. The Great Bustard (Otis tarda) became extinct here in the 19th Century so the hatching of the first wild chicks since 1832 has been hailed as a "huge step".
David Waters, the man behind the reintroduction of the birds, described the news as "absolutely brilliant". "The bird was reasonably abundant at one time from Yorkshire down to the South West," he said. "One of its strongholds was Salisbury Plain, which lends itself to reintroduction, because it's a big military area which has changed very little since the Great Bustard was here, and has never had modern agriculture."
The species suffered a huge decline in numbers in the 17th and 18th Centuries as a result of changing farming practices and hunting, and has only been an occasional visitor to this country since the 1840s. It has also seen populations fall worldwide and globally is considered vulnerable to extinction.
Dr Mark Avery, conservation director of the RSPB which is supporting the project, said: "The hatching of Great Bustard chicks is fantastic news for conservation and marks yet another chapter in the drive to bring back lost species to the UK."
Under the reintroduction scheme, about 80 Great Bustards have been released on a Ministry of Defence-owned site on the plain since 2004. Eggs are taken from nests on farmland in Russia before being hand-reared without close contact with humans. They are then brought to the UK, where they are put into a large enclosure until they are ready to fly away of their own accord.
"What has to happen now is these chicks have to grow up and breed themselves, but this is a huge step for the project," Mr Waters said. "I defy anyone to go to the Galapagos or anywhere in the world and see a bird more spectacular than the Great Bustard," he said.
Excellent news indeed!