Project Godwit

With less than 50 pairs breeding at a handful of sites in eastern England, we're working with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to help prevent the second extinction of black-tailed godwits as a breeding species in England.

Black-tailed godwit


In partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), this five-year project, funded by the EU LIFE nature programme, aims to increase the population of breeding black-tailed godwits in the UK. 

The UK is home to a small breeding population of black-tailed godwits of around 60 pairs. Thanks to their vulnerable population, these large wading birds are red-listed in the UK and possess Near Threatened status globally, meaning they are likely to be threatened with extinction in the near future. 
Historically, numbers of breeding black-tailed godwits in the UK declined drastically at the beginning of the 19th century, to the point where they became extinct as breeding birds. This was probably as a result of the draining of natural wetlands and hunting. 
After an absence of more than a century, however, black-tailed godwits of the limosa subspecies returned to breed in England in the 1930s and started breeding regularly on the Ouse Washes in 1952.
After reaching a peak of 65 breeding pairs on the Ouse in the early 1970s and with the species just starting to colonise the Nene Washes, a series of spring floods saw numbers halve by the late 1980s. Now the majority of this population is found at the Nene Washes, where 42 pairs were recorded in 2016. 
In recent years, the breeding population has continued to be affected by increased flooding in the spring and summer (particularly on the Ouse Washes), and predation, both of which can result in the loss of nests and chicks. 
This five-year project, funded by the EU LIFE nature programme, aims to increase the population of breeding black-tailed godwits in the UK.
A small number of the islandica subspecies also now breeds regularly in Orkney and Shetland.


  • Increase the productivity of black-tailed godwits (subspecies limosa) at the Nene and Ouse Washes, so that the small population can begin to recover.
  • Maintain and enhance black-tailed godwit wet grassland habitat at the Nene and Ouse washes, providing the right conditions for the species to thrive.
  • Improve understanding of the local and migratory movements of black-tailed godwits breeding in the project area, using colour ringing and tracking.
  • Supplement the Ouse Washes black-tailed godwit population through the trialling of a rear-and-release programme, helping to re-establish the birds at sites adjacent to the Ouse Washes.
  • Increase support among local communities for the long-term conservation of black-tailed godwits, and raise awareness of waders among the general public and decision-makers.
  • Develop a UK-wide recovery plan for black-tailed godwits, working with international flyway initiatives.

Planned Work

An extensive monitoring programme of black-tailed godwits at the Nene Washes.

We will be taking a range of steps at Nene Washes to reduce the impact of ground predation on black-tailed godwits, with the aim of increasing nest and chick survival.

We have begun a colour-ringing scheme of black-tailed godwits. We have already received reports of birds from non-breeding grounds in Portugal and Senegal.

We will be refurbishing the visitor centre at the Ouse Washes.

We will be supplementing the Ouse Washes black-tailed godwit population using captive-reared birds, a process known as "headstarting."


This project is being delivered in partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), and is supported by Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Wildlife Trust.


Project Godwit is a partnership between the RSPB and WWT, with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, The HSBC 150th Anniversary Fund, Natural England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project aims to secure the future of black-tailed godwits in the UK.

Further reading

Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Wetland Species: Black-tailed godwit Project status: Project types: Species protection