The first bitterns to breed in Oxfordshire for more than 150 years have been recorded at the RSPB Otmoor reserve.
The bittern, related to the heron, is a rare breeding species in the UK, nesting only in big, wet reedbeds. They are camouflaged and very secretive, however in the breeding season the males make a distinctive booming sound which can be heard over a mile away.
The first ‘booming’ bittern was recorded at the Otmoor reserve in 2013, it was only recently proved that successful breeding had finally taken place, with the discovery of two nests.
In the late 19th century they had vanished from our shores; prized as a medieval banquet dish, they were hit by hunting and by loss of their reedbed habitat. They started to re-colonise slowly at the beginning of the 20th century, but due to continuing habitat loss their numbers slumped yet again, and by 1997 there were only eleven booming males across the country.
At Otmoor, the RSPB and the Environment Agency have been working together to bring bitterns back to Oxfordshire. An army of volunteers have transformed bare mud islands into a wildlife haven, planting more than 150,000 reed seedlings by hand over seven years.