In a positive development, the sight of fledgling spoonbills gracing the landscape of Hickling Broad and Marshes has set a historic record, marking the first successful breeding in the Norfolk Broads in almost 400 years.
The transformation of Hickling Broad nature reserve into a welcoming haven for spoonbills has been a culmination of meticulous habitat management by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, together with a steadily growing population in Britain. Whilst the reserve has become a haven for the spoonbills in recent years, this is the first year for the successful hatching of chicks.
Robert Smith, Senior Reserves Assistant for Broads North says it has been a privilege monitoring the spoonbills over the past few years at Hickling. With the successful first fledged spoonbills since the mid-17th century, the nature reserve can now officially celebrate the return of a former lost breeding species to the Broadland landscape.
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“Watching the fledgling flying around the reserve,” says Smith, “and hearing its trilling begging call as it pesters its parents for food, is a truly wonderful sight and sound. It shows that our work to enhance the habitats on our reserves and across Norfolk is hugely important to the survival of our wildlife, including visitors such as the spoonbill.”
Standing at an impressive three feet tall with a wingspan of four feet, the spoonbill is reminiscent of a large, white heron. Its name is derived from its long bill, which features a flat, spoon-shaped tip. This species holds significance in European conservation efforts and is an exceptionally rare breeding bird within the UK. Currently, there are only eight known breeding sites throughout England.
Fledgling spoonbills, affectionately dubbed ‘teaspoons’ due to their shorter bills, can be identified by the distinctive black colouration in their wing tips. Initially, the fledglings at Hickling Broad will shuttle between their nest in the trees and the nearby pool, gradually venturing farther as they gather confidence. Eventually, the entire family will depart south, likely to Poole Harbour which is a key spot for them during the winter months.
The spoonbills aren’t the only large birds now breeding in the Broads after a 400-year break. As East Anglia Bylines has previously reported, cranes have also made a return in recent years. With the launch of the Great Crane Project in 2006, the number breeding has steadily increased.
The reintroduction of endangered or threatened species to their original native habitats can help prevent their extinction. Restoring these populations in the wild gives these species a chance to recover and contribute to broader conservation efforts. The outreach work of organisations like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trust helps raise public awareness about the importance of biodiversity and conservation efforts. They can provide opportunities for people to learn about the value of native species and their roles within ecosystems, fostering a sense of stewardship for the environment.
Visitors to Hickling Broad and Marshes may get a chance to see the spoonbills and their fledglings, either on Brendan’s Marsh or soaring through the reserve’s expanse. They are advised to bring along binoculars or telescopes.