For the first time since 1832 great bustard chicks have been hatched in the wild in the UK. The Great Bustard Group's reintroduction project on Salisbury Plain has passed an enormously important milestone. Many congratulations to them!
Hopes had been high for this outcome for several weeks and on Sunday we heard that chicks had hatched somewhere on Salisbury Plain. There's a long way to go for these chicks and for the whole project - but, again, many congratulations!
I visited the project last autumn and was impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the project team. The first releases, of birds from Russia, were in 2004. To be honest, the RSPB were rather sniffy about the project when it started, but those concerns are now in the past. In recent years we've been helping behind the scenes including giving some financial support. And the bustards have occasionally been seen on the RSPB's small land holding at Normanton Down within sight of Stonehenge.
Great bustards are a globally threatened species - vulnerable to disturbance, illegal hunting and land use change.
I've seen bustards on the steppes and plains of Spain and Portugal, most recently on the Belen Plains near Trujillo, and they are a majestic sight - they are almost as big as swans. If they are to be re-established successfully in the UK then it will probably have to be on large areas of dry grassland - and that really means Salisbury Plain.
1832 was the year of: the Great Reform Act; the founding of Durham University; 3000 cholera deaths in London; the births of Manet, Lewis Carroll and Gustave Dore; and the deaths of Goethe, Napoleon II and Sir Walter Scott. William IV was on the throne. This was a year before slavery was abolished in the UK. Darwin was on the voyage of The Beagle.
The world was a very different place and, for people, much has improved in the last 177 years - but for the great bustard the pressures have grown and it is only with our active help that bustards will stand a chance to prosper in the next century.
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