Breeding shrikes are highlight of birds' boom year

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S most endangered species of birds have just enjoyed their best breeding season for years, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology.

The news is all the more heartening since last year was disastrous. Several of Britain's scarcest species raised record numbers of young this summer.

Even Britain's rarest bird, the red-backed shrike, has resumed breeding. A single pair has nested in a Suffolk allotment.

Richard Porter, head of species conservation for the RSPB, believes that while fine late spring and early summer weather was the main reason for the birds' success, Britain could be turning a corner in wildlife conservation. Organisations like his own were getting better at protecting breeding grounds and making landowners and farmers more aware of their responsibilities.

'There's also a greater conservation awareness on the part of the public and government, and perhaps we're starting to see that bear fruit,' he said.

But the news is not all good. The British Trust for Ornithology said one of Britain's best-loved common birds, the song thrush, had been in steep decline for the past 15 years and its numbers may have halved. The trust suspects that a ninefold increase in the use of slug-killing pesticides by farmers during the 1980s is to blame. Slugs and snails are an important part of its diet but the molluscs are regarded as serious agricultural pests. Both the BTO and the RSPB say there is an urgent need for research to find out if thrushes are dying after eating poisoned slugs.

In Wales, 79 pairs of red kites raised a record 93 young and for the first time no nests were robbed by egg collectors. The kite is endangered world-wide; it was driven to extinction in the rest of Britain in the last century by farmers and gamekeepers who regarded it as a pest. Birds from continental Europe have recently been reintroduced into England and Scotland and bred for the first time this year.

Ospreys have produced their thousandth youngster since they resumed breeding in Scotland in 1954. More than 70 pairs bred this year and for the first time in 200 years, raised more than 100 young.

Bitterns, confined to the reedbeds of Lancashire and East Anglia, are critically endangered, though numbers have increased slightly with 18 birds recorded this year compared to 16 in 1991.

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