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Suffolk MP becomes national bittern champion

Last modified: 26 April 2016

Adult bittern wading in reedbed

A bittern wading in reedbed on the Suffolk Coast, constituency of MP Dr Thérèse Coffey

Image: Andy Hay

Suffolk Coastal MP, Dr Thérèse Coffey, has become the new UK Bittern Champion, supporting an exciting partnership between seven nature conservation organisations aimed at raising the profile of some of the UK’s most threatened species.

Dr Coffey will be visiting RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, near Westleton, at 10.30 am on Friday 29 April, to learn more about what makes the Suffolk coast so important for this elusive relative of the familiar grey heron.

Dr Coffey will meet RSPB Suffolk Area Manager, Ben McFarland, to learn how pioneering RSPB-led conservation work in Suffolk’s reedbeds, during the 1990s, saw populations recover after the species became perilously close to extinction in the UK. As recently as 1997, surveys using the males’ distinctive and unique booming call, revealed that only 11 male bitterns remained in the UK. 

Following research at Minsmere, new reedbeds have been created, and established reedbeds restored across the UK, helping bittern populations to recover. The summary of breeding bitterns in the UK in 2015, published by the RSPB and Natural England, highlighted the recovery in bittern populations, with at least 156 booming males recorded across at least 71 sites, representing a 14 fold increase on the 1997 low.  Last year, 32 booming male bitterns made a home on the Suffolk coast, the highest total since records began in 1990.

Although Suffolk remains a stronghold for bitterns, many coastal reedbeds are threatened by saltwater flooding, as a result of sea level rise and increased storminess. Dr Coffey will see how a WREN-funded partnership project, further supported by Touching the Tide, is improving the resilience of Suffolk’s reedbeds in the face of climate change. This project is improving reedbeds at RSPB Minsmere and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Hen Reedbeds, as well as at the Easton Broad National Nature Reserve, near Southwold. Not only will the work support the further recovery of bittern populations, it will also protect other reedbed wildlife including otters, marsh harriers, bearded tits and many wetland insects.

Ben McFarland said: “We’re pleased to welcome Dr Coffey to Minsmere to learn more about what makes Suffolk such a special place for bitterns and the key role they, and other rare species, play in the local tourist industry.”

Dr Coffey said: “The Suffolk coast is a special place and it is our duty to protect the fantastic wildlife who share it with us. After being faced with extinction, the bittern has made an incredible comeback and was the star of Springwatch 2014, filmed at Minsmere.

“I am excited to take up the opportunity to champion their cause and hope we can see them flourishing in Suffolk Coastal for generations to come.”

During her visit, Ben McFarland will present Dr Coffey with a unique bittern picture, selected as the winning entry in a children’s art competition at Minsmere.

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