Great bittern Botaurus stellaris, walking through reedbed habitat, RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk

Torrential rain - a blow to bittern recovery

Mark Avery, who worked as Director of Conservation, talks about bitterns have been affected by torrential rain.

Affect on the bittern population

"In 2007, Bank Holiday downpours dealt a blow to one of our rarest birds. Bitterns breeding at the RSPB's nature reserves on the Suffolk coast had their nests washed away after torrential rain led to flash flooding at many sites.

The year had promised to be a good one for the bittern, whose population had fallen to 44 booming males from a 50-year high of 55 in 2004.

Before the wet weekend, there had been 20 booming male bitterns along the coast, including 10 at the RSPB's Minsmere reserve and three at the neighbouring North Warren reserve.

A survey in May found nine nests, including five at Minsmere and one at North Warren. However, the heavy rain and flooding washed out all but two of the nests, with any chicks likely to have been killed.

Perilously low

Despite our success in recent years, bittern numbers remain perilously low. That one spell of bad weather can have such potential serious consequences is proof of that.

Bitterns need large areas of wet reedbed if they are to breed and find enough food.

Far too many of the UK's reedbeds have been lost and this is another reminder that we must continue to create new ones – as the RSPB is doing – if the bittern and many other species are to have a future in our islands."

Mark Avery, who previously worked as Director of Conservation for the RSPB.