With Bitterns returning, what hope for future conservation projects?

With Bitterns returning, what hope for future conservation projects?

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There was heartening news from the RSPB recently, as it announced that the Bittern is once again returning to Britain's reed bed habitats.

According to the organisation, more examples of the species have been recorded so far this year than at any point since the early 19th century, with more than 150 in England and Wales.

The Bittern was declared extinct in the UK in 1886 after extensive hunting and habitat loss, but a breeding male was recorded in 1911 and the species peaked again in the 1950s.

However, declines began again after this due to changing land practices and by 1997 there were only 11 breeding males, so a concerted conservation programme began - and it seems to be reaping rewards.

The RSPB now hopes that efforts to restore lost Bittern habitats and those for other species will expand due to this achievement.

Conservation director Martin Harper said: "The Bittern is a species which proves that conservation can be successful, especially when you can identify the reason behind its decline and bring in measures and funding to aid its recovery."

There have been a number of other conservation success stories reported recently, including the fact that the first colony of wild beavers to inhabit an English river for 400 years has begun breeding and produced at least two kits.

A population was confirmed on Devon's River Otter in February last year and Devon Wildlife Trust established a partnership of supportive landowners, research organisations, vets and management experts to assist them.

Their efforts have been successful and it is hoped that beavers will now stage a comeback across the country.

Elsewhere, conservation groups are quietly getting on with a range of their own projects designed to save our biodiversity, with Act for Wildlife pointing out that schemes are taking place to breed and protect harvest mice, sand lizards, fen raft spiders, hazel dormice and juniper plants, among other species. Surrey Wildlife Trust is also working on conserving and reintroducing the water vole to Britain's rivers.

But it is clear that more still needs to be done to ensure other species do not decline to an extent that they are close to extinction.

The UK has already lost more than 500 native species in the last 200 years, including 12 per cent of our land mammals and nearly 25 per cent of native butterflies.

It is increasingly being reported that Britain's birds are more under threat than ever from habitat loss and a range of other factors, so it may be that we need to focus more on once-common creatures instead of assuming they will always be around.

This can begin at home in our own back gardens if we make just a small effort to look after creatures like garden birds by feeding and housing them, or hedgehogs by maintaining their habitat corridors.

However, it is also essential to keep the pressure on governments to see maintaining biodiversity as our legacy to the next generation.

Britain's government has a Biodiversity Action Plan to target resources and efforts towards newly-listed threatened species like Starlings and House Sparrows, but conservation organisations are worried that wildlife is still not being given the protection priority it deserves.

Indeed, the Joint Links group that includes the RSPB recently warned that the Birds and Habitats Directives from the EU are under review and at risk of being weakened after a 'fitness check' and amid a desire to save money, potentially leaving protected landscapes and their inhabitants endangered.

So while conservation can start at home, do get behind local and national projects and help authorities to appreciate their importance, as well as how well they can function.

With dedication and hard work, it may be possible for other species to stage comebacks like that of the Bittern - and to stop some of our favourite birds, animals and plants from disappearing for good.