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UK wildlife first as purple herons breed successfully

Last modified: 25 June 2010

Purple heron at RSPB Dungeness nature reserve

Image: Adrian Kettle

The first purple herons ever to breed successfully in the UK will be on view to visitors at the RSPB’s Dungeness Nature Reserve in Kent this weekend.

News of the chicks’ arrival comes just a day after the Government announced it was calling in the decision to allow Lydd Airport to expand its operations on the edge of the reserve.

Lydd Airport’s plans would see an extension of the runway and a huge increase in passenger numbers with the arrival of Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s. The RSPB fears disturbance to birds and the effect of increased pollution on the site’s unique mix of specialist lichens, plants and insects.

Shepway District Council controversially agreed the application against the recommendation of their own planning officials. It will now be looked at again at a Public Inquiry.

The value of Dungeness as a haven for wildlife has been underlined by the arrival of the purple herons.

Staff at the reserve have set up a ‘Date With Nature’ viewing station on the reserve’s Denge Marsh so members of the public can share the historic wildlife moment.

As this is the first time the UK has hosted a breeding pair of purple herons, the Society has also put in place a round-the-clock species protection team to give the birds the best chance possible of raising their young.

Bob Gomes, RSPB Dungeness Site Manager, said: “We are seeing more frequent changeovers at the nest, one bird returning from a feeding foray approximately every 3 hours, presumably to deliver food to the awaiting chicks.

“As this bird approaches the nest often with head and chin feathers raised, its partner normally rises from the nest, after a short greeting ceremony that involves much calling from within the reedbed and departs to nearby marshland. 

“It’s great to see.”

Chris Corrigan, the RSPB’s Regional Director for South East England, said, “The arrival of these chicks is a timely reminder the Dungeness peninsula is one of the most important and sensitive wildlife habitats in the UK.

“When combined with considerable local opposition and the increasingly significant impacts on climate change, it seems only right that the airport expansion plans are given the fullest and most rigorous examination before being allowed to proceed. The RSPB has long maintained a Public Inquiry is the best and only way to do this.

 “In the meantime, there is considerable potential to promote the natural environment and attract more people to the area as visitors and tourists. The RSPB is keen to work with others across Romney Marsh and Dungeness to make the most of this potential.”

It is not yet known how many chicks have hatched and confirmation will only be possible when the young fledge in a few weeks time.

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