The world's most threatened birds set up new nest in Gloucestershire

A A A

They are the most endangered birds on Earth but at the weekend a captive flock of young spoon-billed sandpipers began a new life at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, the celebrated reserve of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) on the Severn Estuary.

The small waders from Asia are renowned for their charming, flat-ended or "spatulate" bills, but in recent years they have taken on another distinction – they appear to be the fastest-declining bird species in the world, and now number fewer than 100 pairs, their population having dropped by 90 per cent in a mere decade.

They are vanishing because twice a year they make a giant, 5,000-mile migratory journey between their nesting grounds in the Russian Arctic and their wintering grounds in Bangladesh and Burma, and their "pitstops" – the Chinese and Korean estuaries and wetlands along the route of the so-called East Asian flyway, where the birds rest and feed – are disappearing, being swallowed up by reclamation schemes of the powerhouse Asian economies. They are also suffering from hunting pressure.

This summer, an Anglo-Russian expedition took 13 spoon-billed sandpiper eggs from the nesting grounds in Russia's Chukotka province. The aim is to form a breeding population to provide a safety net against extinction, should the wild population continue its dramatic decline.

The eggs were hatched in special facilities on site and the young chicks transported to Moscow. After a period in Moscow Zoo, the birds were sent to quarantine buildings at Slimbridge; at the weekend they moved out of quarantine into the special quarters that have been prepared for them.

Nigel Jarrett, WWT's head of conservation breeding, who helped lead the expedition to Russia, said: "These birds would normally range from the frozen Arctic to tropical coastal wetlands in South-east Asia, and despite being held in unnatural surroundings they have done very well.

"The site at Slimbridge is purpose-built and a little larger than the quarantine area. It is crucial we keep it warm because at this stage in the birds' lives they'd normally be in the tropics. In some ways we're going into the unknown but every day that passes is a success. The priority is to keep them alive and healthy so that eventually they can breed."

As the spoon-billed sandpiper is an iconic bird for anyone interested in wildlife, progress in attempts to save it is being followed by thousands worldwide. The captive flock will receive 24-hour care inside the new area where CCTV cameras let WWT staff watch the birds constantly. Footage from the cameras is also being broadcast to public screens at WWT.

Andre Farrar of the RSPB said: "It's clear that success, ultimately, must be judged in boosting the wild population. If the descendants of these birds make the return to the wild then we will know we have succeeded. But for now, we should celebrate a very significant milestone."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead Business Analyst - Banking - London - £585

£525 - £585 per day: Orgtel: Lead Business Analyst - Investment Banking - Lond...

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Engineer-(Support, ITIL, Software Vendor)

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Engineer-(Support, S...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home