Posted on Thursday, June 4th, 2015
2015 marks the 12th year of the trial reintroduction of the Great Bustard to Britain, and the 11th annual release of birds. The project has given the Great Bustard Group a steep and steady learning curve with improvements being made each year.
The biggest breakthrough came in 2013 with the first release of Great Bustards reared from Spanish eggs. Prior to this the GBG had operated an egg rescue programme in Saratov in the Russian Federation, but a genetic study undertaken by Dr. Paul O'Donoghue at the University of Chester showed that the Spanish birds were closest to the original UK population.
Eggs, collected under licence in Castilla La Mancha, have been transported to the UK for the last two years with collection undertaken early in the season to encourage the females to lay a second clutch. The eggs are transported to Madrid Zoo where incubation is continued until they are moved to Birdworld, a specialist bird park in Farnham, Surrey. Here the team continue the incubation and oversee the hatching of the eggs.
The day old chicks are then taken to the GBG Project Site in Wiltshire and reared by the Great Bustard Group. The chicks need to be bill fed with a puppet and exercised as they grow so the rearing team wear dehumanisation suits to stop the chicks becoming attached to humans.
Last year, the first using Spanish Great Bustards, saw 33 birds released and a spring census showed a survival rate of over 50% through the first winter. This percentage is much better than was achieved when using chicks imported from Russia, and is significantly better than the 22% which may be expected in a natural wild population.
2015 promises to an excellent year for the wild UK Great Bustard population, with at least four nests discovered in Wiltshire and healthy chicks already seen.
At least 30 more young Great Bustards will be released in 2015, adding to the current total of 26 adult or sub adult birds, bringing the population closer to the point where it will become self sustaining and can continue to grow through natural reproduction.
David Waters - Great Bustard Group founder and Director said, "Last year was our best year yet, and we can expect similar success this year, and into the future. An increasing survival rate with released birds and natural reproduction mean that the restoration of this magnificent species in Britain is well underway and the Great Bustard now has a positive future in Britain."