I grew up on Tyneside in the 1970s when everywhere was marshy and everyone liked birds. With friends I spent the winter trying to identify the waders and gulls on our flooded school footy fields. In springtime we spent the light nights searching for nesting mallards and moorhens in the soggy pastures beyond the footy pitches where lapwings and a few snipes and curlews laid clutches for boy birders to find.
In 1975 I became obsessed with ducks and geese when WWT opened its Washington wetland centre on the north side of the River Wear. I visited the centre most Saturdays to feed bread to Hawaiian geese, believing I was saving them from extinction. Eventually I became a weekend volunteer warden sweeping Hawaiian goose poop off paths instead! I spent three 6-week school summer holidays in the duckery at WWT Slimbridge, learning about wildfowl-husbandry from the avicultural illuminati – Mike Lubbock, Mike Ounsted and Tony Richardson. During my mid-teens I became fixated on finding duck nests: teal, wigeon, goosanders, red-breasted mergansers and eiders were my focus and all found following the footsteps of Abel Chapman in Northumberland. In 1982, aged 16, I went to Mexico to search for breeding masked ducks – I didn’t find a masked duck nest but did find a pair and many nests of other ducks, as well as grebes and rails, and some species with fabulous shapes, colours and names like Montezuma Oropendola.
In 1984 I left school to become a full-time warden at Slimbridge, arriving 29 February - a memorable date for me, not least for seeing from Falcon’s Tower a red-breasted goose in a flock of c1000 white-fronted geese on the Tack Piece. That was the last time that bird was seen at Slimbridge.
I received training how to care for captive wildfowl and flamingos from some brilliant managers - Richard Hesketh, David Price and Tony Richardson especially. I joined Trust scientific expeditions to Iceland, to Svalbard, to Ireland and to Scotland to catch, mark and study wild geese. I spent three winters trying to catch diving ducks on Chew Valley Lake and two summers searching for breeding scoters in Caithness. These opportunities enabled me to apply avicultural know-how to improve field conservation outcomes. I’m forever grateful to generous-spirited colleagues for inviting me to be part of their work: Jeff Black, Tony Fox, Baz Hughes, Carl Mitchell and Myrfyn Owen especially. These men were/are great team builders for conservation success and have inspired me to offer field-work opportunities to as many colleagues as possible.
In the mid-1980s I became a BTO ‘A’ ringer and with research team colleagues trained WWT bird ringers. In 1988 I was appointed Slimbridge Assistant Curator with the job of managing captive breeding programmes for 143 wildfowl and flamingo species in WWT’s education and conservation programmes, that year, inducing captive freckled ducks to breed for the 1st time. In autumn 1989 I was seconded for 3-months to the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust in Trinidad to advise on the reintroduction of five duck species on wetlands within an oil refinery.
In early 1993 I left WWT for the deserts of the middle-east: I joined The National Avian Research Center (NARC) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates as an aviculturalist responsible for the construction and operation of captive bird areas on a 30 hectare site at Al Ain Zoo. At NARC I managed captive breeding programmes for six bustard species, and in 1995 and 1996 led 3-month 10-person field expeditions to Taukum Desert, Kazakhstan to catch, mark and collect eggs of McQueen’s Bustard for successful translocation to Abu Dhabi.
In summer 1996 I returned to the UK to undertake a Biology degree at Newcastle University, conducting field research on Greenland white-fronted geese in west Greenland during the summers of 1997 and 1998. I graduated in 1999 and returned to WWT Slimbridge as Avicultural Manager. Responsible for running all WWT’s captive breeding programmes for flamingos and threatened wildfowl species, I formed collection plans for our seven zoo-licensed collections to support WWT’s “threatened waterbird and awareness to action” programmes and produced husbandry manuals and a training programme for WWT’s animal-keeping staff. In 2005 I returned to field work, assisting with the USGS’s translocation of the Critically Endangered Laysan teal from Laysan to Midway Atoll in Hawaii. In 2006, and with the WWT’s Centre Developments and Slimbridge Centre team I created Crane School: a reedy marsh pond exhibit where between 2007 and 2009 15 cranes of 4 species were raised and where 7000 people, aged between 3-83 years were welcomed to dress-up as a crane parent and to feed baby cranlets aged 3-63 days using a litter picker modified into a crane head shape J - fun was had by all!
Since 2009, I’ve been Head of the Conservation Breeding Unit (CBU). With a small team of dedicated aviculturalists I develop and implement headstarting initiatives and maintain captive populations of a few threatened bird species designed to safeguard against extinction.
My focus is/has been:
1. To save the Critically Endangered Madagascar Pochard (MP) from extinction.
In 2009 I led avicultural fieldwork to secure survival of the Critically Endangered Madagascar Pochard then numbering <10 females on a remote lake in Madagascar. With WWT and Durrell Conservation Trust colleagues, I raised three broods of pochards (24 ducklings) in a tent and mud-hut. We have since designed and built a conservation breeding centre for the ducks in Madagascar and have developed husbandry protocols to grow the population to 100 individuals, retaining most of the founders’ genetic diversity, in readiness for a pilot ‘reintroduction’ on Lac Sofia in 2018.
In preparation for 2018 releases, I developed a soft-release aviary for diving ducks. This was successfully trialled at WWT Slimbridge in 2017, using tufted ducks as surrogate pochard. In 2018 I will lead on all aspects of pochard translocation to Lac Sofia including rearing and release of birds and the assembly and installation of lakeside rearing aviaries, floating soft release aviaries and floating feeding stations, as well as the protocols for post-release support to safeguard the birds’ welfare and establishment on Lac Sofia.
2. To develop and implement novel headstarting initiatives for the Critically Endangered spoon-billed sandpiper and UK red-listed black-tailed godwit.
I conceived and pioneered head-starting of spoon-billed sandpiper, i.e. hatching and rearing chicks on the Chukotkan tundra resulting in a five-fold increase in the species’ productivity between 2011 and 2017. I also oversee the avicultural aspects of a 2017-21 EU Life Project to headstart black-tailed godwit at WWT Welney aiming to maintain the species’ population at the key breeding sites in the English Fens.
3. To maintain captive populations of spoon-billed sandpiper, Black-tailed godwits and Critically Endangered Baer’s pochard in biosecure accommodation to safeguard against extinction while also developing i) field techniques e.g. improved tracking devices, and/or ii) captive management techniques e.g. using food plants to improve water quality in ponds.
In 2011 I led the work to establish a captive population of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, including the collection of eggs from the last known breeding population (numbering <10 pairs) In Chukotka, rearing chicks in transit to the UK, while also supervising the building of a conservation breeding facility at WWT Slimbridge. In 2012 I translocated eggs from Chukotka to Slimbridge hatching 18 viable eggs and rearing chicks in quarantine conditions.
In 2015 the CBU team modified the former Great Crane Project crane rearing facility at Slimbridge to accommodate a small population of captive Baer’s Pochard. This was necessary to safeguard WWT’s captive Baer’s Pochard from the annual risk posed by Avian Influenza and to enable the development of aquackponics - a water filtration system using wetland plants to improve duck pond water quality.
In 2016 I devised with the CBU team the rearing-for-release techniques for black-tailed godwit including the design of rearing and release aviaries for deployment at WWT Welney for the 2017-21 EU Life Godwit Project.
4. To reintroduce common cranes to south-west England 400 years after the species’ extinction
In 2009 I oversaw the creation of a biosecure crane rearing facility at WWT Slimbridge for the Viridor Environmental Credits funded Great Crane Project. Subsequently, from 2010 to 2014, I directed avicultural activities from egg collecting and egg translocation (from Germany to the UK) through all rearing stages, resulting in the release of 96 fledged cranes on the RSPB’s West Sedgemoor reserve on the Somerset Levels and Moors. The 1st breeding of released birds was recorded in 2014 with pairs slowly, but surely, becoming successful in the years since.
D.C. Deeming and N.S. Jarrett (2015). Applications of incubation science to aviculture and conservation in: Nests, Eggs, and Incubation. Edited by D. C. Deeming & S. J. Reynolds (2015). Oxford University Press, 196-207.
Martin, G.R., Jarrett, N. & M. Williams (2007) Visual fields in Blue Ducks Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos and Pink-eared Ducks Malacorhynchus membranaceus: visual and tactile foraging. Ibis, 149: 112-120
Batty, M., Jarrett, N.S., Forbes, N., Wright, L., Brown, M.J. Standley, S., Richardson, A.E, Oliver, S.,
Martin G.R., Jarrett, N., Tovey P. & White, C.R. (2005).Visual fields in Flamingos: chick-feeding versus filter-feeding Naturwissenschaften, 92: 351-354.
Jarrett, N.S., Mason, V., Wright, L. & V. Levassor (2003). Using egg density and egg mass techniques for incubation stage assessment to predict hatch dates of Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber roseus eggs. Wildfowl 55: 131-142
Kristiansen, J. K., Fox, A.D. & N.S. Jarrett. 2001. Recoveries of Canada Geese, Branta canadensis, banded in
Kristiansen, J.N. & Jarrett, N.S. 1999. Resightings and recoveries in Canada Geese Branta canadensis ringed in
Jarrett, N.S. & S.M. Warren 1999. A preliminary guide for age and sex determination of the Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata macqueenii. Journal of the
Fox, A.D., Jarrett, N.S., Gitay, H. & D. Paynter. 1989. Late summer habitat selection by breeding waterfowl in northern