Bustards on Tour

Great bustards released as part of an ambitious project that is bringing the birds back to the UK are causing a stir by conducting their own tours of southern England.

Brought from Saratov in Russia, this year’s great bustards were released in September, and there are currently 17 in the wild.

The Great Bustard project is successfully reintroducing the birds to the UK. The project, assisted by EU Life+ funding, is run by a partnership between the University of Bath, the RSPB, the Great Bustard Group and Natural England.

Professor Tamás Székely, researcher in the Biodiversity Group at the University, and Dr Kate Ashbrook, Post-Doctoral Researcher, are leading a project to track the birds using satellite transmitters, as part of the reintroduction project.

Dr Ashbrook said: “We have been tracking the movements of the birds since release, however not all of the birds are fitted with transmitters and therefore we ask for the public to report any sightings to assist us with tracking. We are using the data to learn more about the birds' movements and the habitats they prefer.”

Andrew Taylor, Great Bustard LIFE Project Adviser for RSPB said; "This year’s released birds have been out for eight weeks now, and most are starting to roam more widely around their original release sites.

"However, some have been rather more adventurous than others! Black Six, named after the numbered black wing tag she carries, was last seen by project staff on the day of her release. She spent a couple of weeks on a neighbouring farm, but then went off the radar.

Great Bustard being tagged with a GPS transmitter

Great Bustard being tagged with a GPS transmitter

"At dawn on 5 November, a great bustard was seen flying south from Portland Bill in Dorset, and then the following lunchtime we received a report of Black Six in a field at South Huish, near Kingsbridge in Devon. She flew north an hour later.

"This week, 21 November, we received a report of another bustard, this time without wing tags, but with a radio transmitter, on land owned by The National Trust near Langton Matravers in south Purbeck. They certainly are getting around."

Conservationists are looking forward to seeing where the bustards will fly to next, but are appealing to the public for help.

Trace Williams Great Bustard LIFE Manager for RSPB said: "Of the 17 birds in the wild we are able to track nine directly as they have radio and satellite transmitters. The remaining birds however have no transmitters so we need people who see them, and notice the very visible numbered wing tags, to let us know by calling 01980 671466. All reports will be treated in confidence."

The great bustard is a globally threatened species that is listed on Annex I of the EC Birds Directive. As a species of concern in Europe, the re- introduction of the birds to the UK is generously supported by the EU LIFE fund and co-ordinated by a partnership of the University of Bath, the Great Bustard Group, Natural England and the RSPB.

It was formerly widely distributed across large parts of lowland Europe, but started to decline in the 18th century and is now absent from much of its original range. It became extinct from the UK in 1832, and from numerous other European nations over the rest of the 19th and the 20th centuries. It is responding well to conservation and many populations are now increasing.

Visitors are welcome to the great bustard release site to learn about the project and see the spectacular scenery and wildlife of Salisbury Plain. To book a visit phone 07817 971327 or email the project.

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