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One in a million

One day in June this year my wife found a dead bird on Hunstanton beach with a ring on, she wasn’t sure of the species but without saying anything to me she sent the ring number to the address on the ring.

Last week she received a letter from the British Trust for Ornithology saying that the bird was a Common Tern ringed in Baston Fen as a nestling in June 1996 by Nicholas Watts, myself!!! What a coincidence, surely a chance in a million.

Just think how far this bird will have travelled in those 14 years. Each year it has probably wintered in West Africa or even further south travelling a journey of at least 4000 miles each way, a total of over 100,000 miles in a straight line. However, seeing as they catch their food by flying over water and so follow the coastline that could be trebled to 300,000 miles!

I remember the situation well back in 1996. The Terns were nesting with Black headed Gulls on an island owned by Hanson’s, the gravel people, with only limited success, something was taking their eggs. After much thought I put two rabbit traps on the island early one morning with an egg in each trap and came back 2 hours later and had caught two Moorhens and both eggs had been eaten. I was amazed.

Two years earlier there had been a colony of 500 pairs of Black Headed Gulls and 70 pairs of Common Terns on this island and in 1997 no pairs nested successfully due to all the eggs being eaten by Moorhens.

1995 and 1996 were very dry years, the two driest years I have recorded since 1970. The Environment Agency threatened to stop farmers irrigating. I could see in the future at some point that we could be stopped abstracting water during the summer months so I thought that if I built a reservoir I could have my own water supply and because birds are dear to my heart, I thought putting an island in this reservoir might attract the Common Terns to my own island and that is what I did. Common Terns have nested on my island from 1998 and I have now had up to 80 pairs nesting on the island.

Tern and Gull droppings are very good fertilizer making the grass grow tall enough for the Moorhens to hide in and so when a gull or a Tern gets off its nest the Moorhen comes out of hiding and eats the contents of the nest. My management has been to keep the grass short, then the Moorhens have no where to hide on the island. The gulls and Terns are not bothered by the Moorhens so without my island and my management there would be no Common Terns nesting in Baston or Langtoft Fens.

Little by little wildlife is slipping away from us through our daily business activities. To save our wildlife we have to realise what is going on around us and then take action. Become a member of the Wildlife Trust and read the Winter 2010 Natural World to see how the Wildlife Trust is taking action on projects to save our wildlife.