Yorkshire breeding success for rare avocets

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A PAIR of rare birds have been successfully bred on an East Yorkshire nature reserve.

The pair of avocets – a species which has come perilously close to becoming extinct in the UK – has successfully bred at the Tophill Low nature reserve near Driffield.

It is the first time the breed has bred at the site in its history and comes against a series of obstacles, including flooding and a fox attack which saw the nests of 37 neighbouring gull and tern raided.

The pair have successfully bred four chicks, giving fresh hope for the future of the enigmatic species – used by the RSPB as its symbol.

Many avocets lay their eggs on bare mud, only to see them washed away by flooding as a result of the high levels of rainfall over the last few months.

Richard Hampshire, Yorkshire Water’s warden at the site, said: “We’d take our hat off to the pair, if it wasn’t raining so much.

“They’ve faced all sorts of challenges over the course of the last few weeks, and diligently incubated their eggs whilst fending off all manner of attacks from predators such as gulls and marsh harriers.

“Their success is all the more special because up and down the country, avocets have had a pretty torrid time of it, with many pairs seeing their eggs eaten by predators or simply washed away by flooding as a consequence of the heavy rainfall we’ve had.

“We expect these chicks to hang around for the next few weeks, before accompanying their parents on the migratory journey back to Africa. Our hope is that next year, after the success of this year, they will all return to the site again to breed, boosting our avocet population and giving the bird watchers here even more to shout about.”

The species came very close to extinction in Victorian times after thousands were killed for their plumage which was a popular fashion accessory for hats at the time.

While the species has started to increase in numbers in recent decades it still remains rare.

And whilst the avocet pair may have had success, many other bird species have suffered this year as a result of the unusually dry start to the year which has been followed by the deluge of rainfall over the last few months.

Mr Hampshire said: “Wildlife across the region has been hit by the sharp change in weather.”

Among the other interesting sightings this year at the reserve have included a red-footed falcon and a kingfisher.