Thursday, 26 February 2015

Birdwatch - latest editorial

March 2015 | Issue 273

I have fond memories of seeing my first Common Crane in Britain. I was 17 and on a family trip to north Norfolk when we heard a rumour of one feeding in riverside fields on private land. Working out where it might be visible from a public road, my brother and I eventually found the bird – and what an impressive sight it was. Still an official rarity at the time, I recorded the details in my notebook, crudely sketched it and submitted my first-ever description to the Rarities Committee.

It was some years before I next saw the species in Britain, an indication of just how rare a visitor it used to be, but cranes then settled in small numbers elsewhere in Norfolk. Having done so under their own steam, an obvious question is why reintroduce more when the species has already established itself? Given the significant funding and resources needed for such projects, it’s a fair point, and the same case might also be made against other reintroductions such as White-tailed Eagle and Osprey.

But there are actually very good reasons for doing so. I have been sceptical of the value of some of them previously, but modified my view over time. The presence of released birds in the wider countryside may jar with ‘purist’ birders in the short term, but who can really argue, for example, that several generations on it was a bad idea to re-establish Red Kites in the Chilterns? And think of the iconic and educational value too of the Ospreys at Rutland Water and the White-tailed Eagles on Mull, not to mention the significant benefits to rural tourism.

On a number of levels, reintroductions of native birds are justifiable and should be welcomed. Without a helping hand, many of the species involved are destined to remain rare, teetering on the edge of their range here, or lost forever as part of our avifauna.

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