WWT Welney is hosting a special day-long event later this month with the RSPB to mark the end of a seven-year programme that has boosted the numbers of one the UK’s rarest breeding wading birds, the black-tailed godwit, by an incredible 40%.
The wetland site will be opening its doors at 6.30am on Sunday, September 24 to celebrate the success of Project Godwit, which has been a labour of love for the team at WWT who have worked in partnership with the RSPB, local communities and nature enthusiasts to reverse the decline of the bird.
Proving the power of partnership working, which involved over 2000 local residents and schoolchildren who were given the title of Godwit Guardians, the project released 206 black-tailed godwits and the event will be a celebration of the work with a free open day that includes nature talks, off-road safaris and a range of family activities.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard throughout the project and the success seen is testament to the effort put in by people from both organisations involved,” said WWT Project Manager Eric Heath. “The shared expertise and skills this partnership brought together has given black-tailed godwits a lifeline. But it is clear that one thing we need to do is restore more of the wetland habitat they need to breed and survive over the long term. “This is why we are working with farmers, landowners, local communities and others to create bigger, better and more connected wetlands to help the godwits and many other species thrive.”
As well as rearing and releasing birds, the project has enhanced wet grassland habitat providing the right conditions for godwits to breed, examined the threats the birds face, followed the fortunes of individually marked godwits as they travel between England and west Africa using sightings sent in by members of the public, and trialled other conservation techniques to increase the survival of eggs and chicks.
Breeding success in the wild, however, remains too low to support a stable population. The UK’s breeding black-tailed godwits are struggling like many other wading birds due to loss of habitat, unfavourable land management, unsustainable predation rates and the impacts of climate change.
So, to help secure the future of the black-tailed godwit population in the UK, a 10 year action plan will be launched at the WWT Welney godwit open day, that will guide future work helping this species to thrive in the future.
Hannah Phillips, RSPB Area Manager said: “When over 80% of the UK’s breeding Black-tailed Godwits bred in just two locations – Ouse Washes and Nene Washes, and those breeding pairs were critically low in number, we knew we had to do something to help. Enabled by a range of conservation activities delivered in partnership with WWT, the project has helped to shore up this vulnerable bird’s future. We are pleased to be able to celebrate this success, but this is not the end, it is just the beginning, as we now jointly look to build on the work done and put in place an action plan to guide the next 10 years of conservation work for the Black-tailed Godwit in England.”
WWT Centre Manager, Leigh Marshall said of the event: “This is a fantastic opportunity to experience wetlands and find out more about one of the most unique species of birds in the Fens. “The teams of staff and volunteers who have been championing black-tailed godwits across the Ouse Washes and Nene Washes have dedicated their lives to working for these birds, the habitats they rely on and the communities involved in the wider landscape.“These special birds and their story is so inspiring, to know that they travel from Africa to breed here each summer, arriving at healthy wet grasslands to raise the next generation, in turn who will return for decades to come.“Black-tailed godwits only spend part of their year in the Fens, but the habitat is home for thousands of species year-round. We hope that people from local communities will come and see what we are all about and enjoy the range of activities, talks, walks and access we are putting on for this special occasion.”
The celebration event is a last opportunity to engage with Project Godwit, but also a fantastic chance to get inspired about wetlands and the future of black-tailed godwit conservation.
Project Godwit is a partnership between the RSPB and WWT with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, the HSBC 150th Anniversary Fund, Natural England, the Montague-Panton Animal Welfare Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, through the Back from the Brink programme.