Latest RSPB report shows how giving nature space can help boost nesting success of a number of the UK’s birds

Becca Smith

Monday 14 March 2022

A number of species have benefitted from careful management of dedicated spaces and being given a wide berth, including during the breeding season in 2021, on the RSPB's 222 nature reserves.

The RSPB, who manage almost 159,000 hectares of land across the UK for nature, have revealed how wildlife is faring on its nature reserves, finding that a range of species have increased rates of breeding success when given safe spaces to nest and raise their young.

Covering all 222 RSPB nature reserves throughout the UK, the report reveals the ups and downs of the 2021 bird breeding season, as well as other wildlife, and highlights the importance of both nature reserves and targeted conservation work across a range of habitats in order to support individual species.

Thanks to the dedicated spaces that nature reserves provide, wading birds such as lapwings, whose camouflaged nests are found in shallow scrapes in the ground amongst short vegetation, and redshanks, which favour grass or rush tussocks, fared well at a number of RSPB reserves last year.

Bucking declining trends nationally, the highest ever number of both lapwing and redshank were found in the Greater Thames area at RSPB Rainham Marshes and RSPB Wallasea Island in 2021. Both RSPB Loch Gruinart in Scotland and RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands in Cumbria also celebrated the highest ever numbers of breeding redshank, with the latter nature reserve having one of the highest densities of breeding waders in the UK last year.

Similarly to wading birds, terns also nest at ground level and are often found on beaches and high tide lines. At risk of abandoning their nests and chicks if they are accidentally disturbed by beach goers and their dogs, these birds are particularly vulnerable in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.

While the odds may seem as if they are stacked against terns, RSPB Coquet Island, a sanctuary for seabirds on the Northumberland coast, saw a bumper year in 2021, with record-breaking numbers of roseate, Sandwich and common terns recorded.

Meanwhile, at RSPB Pagham Harbour in West Sussex, little tern and Sandwich tern pairs reached their highest numbers since the RSPB began managing the reserve and Northern Ireland’s RSPB Larne Lough Islands saw numbers of Sandwich terns increase too, totalling over 1,100 pairs

2021 was also the best breeding year yet for cranes, our tallest bird here in the UK. A species which can be incredibly inconspicuous during the breeding season, cranes are extremely sensitive and so they tend to breed on dedicated areas of nature reserves that are kept free from disturbance.

Once a species extinct in Britain, cranes began to recolonise the UK in the 1970s, spreading from Norfolk to further afield and rising in number thanks to conservation efforts. One of the highlights from their record-breaking year in 2021 was the fledging of the first young crane in Oxfordshire for 500 years at RSPB Otmoor.

Speaking of the latest report and its findings, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, Katie-Jo Luxton, said: “Looking back on how wildlife has fared on our nature reserves in 2021 has been a fantastic insight into what can be achieved when ambitious conservation action is combined with the phenomenal team effort of our staff and volunteers in managing, monitoring and surveying wildlife on RSPB reserves.

Our nature reserves offer hope that with the right focus and effort, it is possible to restore threatened wildlife, especially in the face of the huge pressures on the natural world posed by the Nature and Climate Emergency.”

As the UK’s largest conservation charity, the RSPB’s nature reserves support more than 18,500 species (more than a quarter of all species found in the UK) and welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to enjoy nature.

She continued: “This spring, why not visit one of our 222 nature reserves to see a variety of awe-inspiring wildlife and conservation in action? Whether you’re visiting an RSPB reserve or the wider countryside, we can all help to protect ground nesting birds by simply being mindful of nests and watching our step. If you see an alarmed adult bird or come across a nest, be sure to keep your distance and give nature the space it needs this breeding season.”

Covering not just avian wildlife but flora, fauna and mammals too, the RSPB Ecology Report also celebrated sightings and signs of water voles, the UK’s fastest declining mammal, at nature reserves such as RSPB St Aidan’s, near Leeds, and RSPB Ynys-hir in Wales in 2021.

Other highlights from the report included an excellent year for red-necked phalaropes in Shetland, record numbers of booming bitterns across England and Wales, and increased numbers of breeding spoonbills on RSPB Havergate Island, Suffolk. To discover more about the highs and lows of wildlife on the RSPB’s nature reserves in 2021, read the full report here.

Header image: a female lapwing sits on her nest. Credit: Andy Hay,

Last Updated: Monday 14 March 2022

Tagged with: Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: Reserves Topic: Wildlife