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Record breaking year for iconic bird that fronts the RSPB logo

Last modified: 10 October 2015

Flock of avocets on mud

Avocets were missing from the UK between 1842 and 1938

Image: Andy Hay

On the day of the charity’s Annual General Meeting it has been revealed that the avocet, a bird once close to extinction in the UK and the emblem of the RSPB, has enjoyed a record breaking year across RSPB reserves. 

Avocets returned to RSPB Minsmere in 1947, after an absence of more than 100 years, and numbers have continued to grow across the UK. As the avocet population increases, RSPB reserves have consistently remained popular with the wading bird, with 50% of the UK’s entire population choosing them as their home thanks to innovative habitat management techniques, such as the creation of islands and nursery pools. 

Mike Clarke, RSPB’s Chief Executive, said: “Where avocets lead, nature follows. The arrival of avocets on the Suffolk coast in 1947 heralded our continuing relationship with this special place. Minsmere is now a flagship RSPB reserve, beloved by the many visitors that are drawn to the wildlife spectacle. Since avocets colonised Minsmere, they’ve been crucial for the survival of many species, including bitterns and marsh harriers, and under our care is home to a wealth of wildlife.

“Avocets continue to take up residence around the country – often colonising places that we and others have created for them. They are a symbol of conservation success – and the reason they feature as the logo of the RSPB.”

This year, Minsmere celebrated what was the best breeding season for avocets in almost 30 years, with 58 chicks being successfully reared.

Ian Barthorpe, Visitor Experience Officer at RSPB Minsmere, said: “We’re thrilled to have had such a successful breeding season on the reserve this year. Avocets hold great symbolic significance for Minsmere, and they attract thousands of visitors to the reserve each year who hope to get a closer look at these beautiful and unusual birds.” 

The long-legged bird also reached a record number of 172 pairs on Cliffe Pools reserve in North Kent, the highest number recorded at Cliffe and one of the highest concentrations ever recorded in the UK. Habitat work undertaken at the nature reserve has led to the creation of individual islands which have been successful in enabling avocets to use these areas as secure nesting sites, away from predators. 

Further north, avocets were amongst many wader species to nest at Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire this year, representing the first breeding of avocets in the county. Frampton Marsh reserve in Lincolnshire welcomed their best ever year; the number of breeding pairs reached 81 compared to 0 in 2008 due to their dynamic management work. Small ‘nursery pools’ have been created on wet grassland which are ideal for chicks to feed on as they offer protection from predators. Record numbers were also recorded at the Dee Estuary reserve in Cheshire due to efforts to improve an anti-predator fence last winter. 

With autumn now upon us, the number of wintering avocets will soon reach approximately 7,500 across the country. Poole Harbour in Dorset attracts a huge wintering colony of avocets, with numbers having risen from 25 to almost 2000 in just 30 years, now accounting for an astonishing 40% of the UK wintering population, making it the most important British wintering site.

Pioneering science, saving species from the brink and working with landowners & businesses are amongst the major RSPB successes from the past 12 months. Other notable successes, which will be celebrated at this year’s AGM include; RSPB’s partnership with Crossrail in breaching the seawall at Wallasea Island; tracking the migration route of a turtle dove for the first time; and taking on the management of the world-famous Sherwood Forest Country Park and visitor centre. 

With over 200 nature reserves across the county, there is an abundance of wonderful wildlife out there to be seen and opportunities to get closer to the natural world. So far we’ve discovered 16,000 species on RSPB reserves, including a multitude of moths, mosses, molluscs and mammals, and we think there are many more still to be recorded. To find a site near you visit

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