Walkers and birdwatchers will enjoy the spectacle of rare birds in the sies over Wiltshire. An ambitious programme to return the world’s heaviest flying bird to the UK has been given a boost by the European Union. The Great Bustard Project, based on Salisbury Plain, has been awarded an EU LIFE+ €2.2million grant to enlarge the project over the next five years; it will transform the Great Bustard Reintroduction Trial. The project is run by a partnership of the RSPB (www.rspb.org.uk), Great Bustard Group, University of Bath and Natural England. Releasing great bustards reared from eggs rescued in southern Russia, the project had its greatest success in 2009, when the oldest males became sexually-mature and mated successfully, producing the first great bustard chicks to hatch in the wild in the UK for 177 years.
Tracé Williams, previously the RSPB’s Chalk Grassland Restoration Manager based in Wiltshire, has been appointed as LIFE Project Manager for the RSPB. “It is so exciting to be working with these charismatic birds and with the staff who have achieved so much already in this awe-inspiring project. The funding will take the project to another level, with more security and a greater ability to gather vital information on the birds.”
An early impact of the project has been the way in which monitoring has been conducted on this year’s release of great bustards. Sixteen of them are carrying GPS satellite transmitters. Prof. Szekely from Bath University explained, “Monitoring is an essential element of the LIFE+ project. We need to understand what the released bird do, what food they eat, how they interact with other bustards and how they evade enemies. Effective monitoring will give us the information we need to improve the survival and reproduction of British bustards.”
The great bustard is one of a number of species that the RSPB is working in partnership to restore to our countryside. RSPB species recovery officer, Leigh Lock said, “Great bustards last bred in the UK in 1832, and the RSPB is delighted to be working with partners to re-establish them as breeding birds after an absence of 170 years. We also hope that the great bustard project will help promote the restoration of a lost landscape in southern England that will support some of our other rare and threatened wildlife.”