The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has welcomed news of the first breeding great bustards in Great Britain for 175 years.
The Great Bustard Group (GBG) has been releasing birds on Salisbury Plain each year since around 2004, but did not expect nesting to take place until 2008, as males have to reach four or five years old before they can breed. Chicks are raised in Russia from eggs rescued from nests destroyed by cultivation, but then released in the Wiltshire countryside.
RSPB chalk grassland manager Tracé Williams said: 'This is really exciting news. The Great Bustard Group are to be congratulated on their achievements so far and we hope that this will be the first of many bustards breeding here in the future.'
GBG made the announcement Monday 23 July some time after the birds' nest was discovered, in order to minimise the risk of eggs being stolen or disturbance. Sadly, the great bustards' breeding attempt was not successful. The eggs were incubated by a female bird, but subsequently abandoned. After examination, the eggs were found to be infertile.
The RSPB is working closely with farmers and landowners in the area to advise on habitat creation and management to support the species, along with other farmland birds.
Great bustards need a mixture of chalk grassland, with lots of insects in summer, and farmland providing cereal food in the winter. They particularly favour the areas being managed for stone-curlews, a secretive migrant from southern Europe and Asia, which breeds in the area every year.
Ms Williams added: 'Three female bustards have been regularly using restored chalk grassland at one of our nature reserves in the area – which just goes to show the value of habitat management work.'
There is still a long way to go to secure a sustainable population of great bustards in the UK, but the historic breeding attempt proves that suitable conditions exist to tempt the birds to try to breed and conservationists are hopeful that the birds will try again next year.
The RSPB hopes to continue to work closely with GBG to re-establish the spectacular birds in the UK.
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