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Record breaking 10th anniversary for wintering marsh harriers

Last modified: 26 January 2012

Male marsh harrier hovering over reedbed

A staggering 38 marsh harriers have stayed to spend the winter in and around the reserve.

Ten years since the RSPB first welcomed wintering marsh harriers to its Blacktoft Sands reserve, their numbers have soared to a record high.

A staggering 38 marsh harriers have stayed to spend the winter in and around the reserve.

These magnificent birds of prey used to migrate south to spend the winter in the warmer climates of southern Europe or North Africa but during recent winters increasing numbers have decided to stay and brave the British climate.

Drainage of wetlands, use of the pesticide DDT and illegal persecution led to the near extinction of the marsh harrier in the UK in the 1970s.  However, recent years have seen a reversal in the population decline with the management and protection of reed beds, like those at Blacktoft Sands, offering safe places for them to roost in the winter and raise a family in the summer.  Last year, 13 pairs successfully nested in the reed beds at the reserve.

To commemorate 10 years of wintering marsh harriers, throughout February, staff and volunteers at Blacktoft Sands are running bird of prey guided walks on the reserve, offering visitors the opportunity to experience the awe-inspiring sight of these fantastic birds.

Mike Andrews, visitor officer at RSPB Blacktoft Sands explains: “Not only is this a special anniversary for Blacktoft Sands but with up to 38 marsh harriers using the reed bed to roost in at night, it makes this year extra special. With such a large number of marsh harriers and a good chance of seeing the elusive hen harrier, these guided walks offer everyone a chance to experience a fantastic natural event.”

The RSPB’s management of the reed bed at Blacktoft Sands forms part of its Humberhead Levels Futurescape, a landscape-scale conservation project where a range of partners are working together to restore and create a network of wetlands, which will benefit a range of species including marsh harriers.

Witness the marsh harrier spectacle every afternoon throughout February or join us on one of our special bird of prey events taking place on Saturday 4th, Wednesday 8th, Wednesday 15th or Saturday 18 February from 3pm to 5pm.  Tickets cost £4 and can be pre-booked by calling Blacktoft Sands on 01405 704665.

The reserve is situated between Ousefleet and Adlingfleet near Goole, just follow the brown tourist signs from Goole or Keadby Bridge.

How you can help

From scrub bashing to guided walks, the RSPB run events all around the UK