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Back from the brink: Bittern numbers reach record high in East Anglia

Bitterns are booming in East Anglia again. Credit: RSPB

Britain's loudest bird looks like it's back from the brink of extinction - and making the East its home.

The RSPB's latest survey has revealed a record high of 83 male bitterns in East Anglia, with 34 of them found in the Cambridgeshire Fens and 23 in Norfolk.

Since 2006, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of bitterns making their home in East Anglia.

“It’s brilliant to hear that we’ve had a record-breaking 83 booming bitterns in East Anglia this year – a number certainly testament to the hard work put in by nature reserve teams across the region to safeguard this special species for the future.”

– Jeff Knott, RSPB Regional Director for the East

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With their well camouflaged, pale, brown plumage, bitterns are highly secretive birds that spend most of their time hiding in dense stands of reed.

They had completely disappeared in Britain by the 1870s, before recolonising early in the 20th Century.

However, they found themselves back on the brink in 1997 when numbers dropped to 11 males.

“We count bitterns by listening for their distinctive booming call, and every year more and more bitterns are making newly created or restored wetlands their home and to raise young. “The recovery of this elusive bird is a remarkable conservation success and shows what can be achieved through targeted efforts to restore and create more of their favoured habitat."

– Simon Wotton, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist

The RSPB say bitterns, along with a number of other species, have long benefited from EU laws that protect their habitat.

More than half of Britain’s breeding bittern population occur within Special Protected Areas (SPAs), however, the rest of the vulnerable population make their home on sites without legal protection.

"As the UK has voted to leave the EU, we must safeguard their future as a breeding species in the UK by bolstering the laws that protect nature and replacing the funds that will be lost.

"Bittern numbers have also been boosted in recent years with funding from two EU LIFE projects that have helped secure their future as a breeding species in the UK."

– Martin Harper, RSPB Global Conservation Director