World's heaviest flying bird lays its first egg on British soil for 175 years

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The Independent Online

Conservationists hailed the success of an ambitious scheme to reintroduce the world's heaviest flying bird to the UK yesterday after the announcement that a female had laid its first egg on British soil for more than 175 years. The great bustard, which weighs up to 40lbs with a wingspan of up to 8ft, disappeared from the UK in the early 19th century. A scheme to reintroduce chicks from Russia began nine years ago.

The eggs were infertile and will not hatch but conservationists said successful nesting on a remote spot of Salisbury Plain was a major achievement.

"It's not quite the fairy tale we hoped for, but it's still a huge milestone," said David Waters, director of the Great Bustard Group conservation scheme. "Wild birds only lay eggs when they are comfortable and healthy so it shows that the species is happy with the surrounding environment and temperature."

Mr Waters, a retired policeman, kept the news of the egg-laying secret in order to protect the whereabouts of the nest from egg collectors. "The first batch of eggs laid by a great bustard in the UK for over a century would be quite a valuable find to egg collectors so we had to keep it a secret," he said. "The female is also very likely to return to a very similar spot nearby next year."

Male great bustards only reach full maturity after four to five years and conservationists believe the female probably mated with an immature, infertile partner.

The last time a great bustard was recorded laying an egg in Britain was in 1832. The species was driven out of the United Kingdom by hunting and changes in farming practices, which destroyed their habitat.