Today is an important day for us here at Minsmere as we're celebrating the 75th anniversary of Minsmere becoming an RSPB nature reserve.
The reserve looked very different when the RSPB signed a management agreement with the landowners on 25 April 1947. Much of the low-lying farmland had been flooded by the closure of the Minsmere Sluice as part of wartime measures to prevent a German invasion. The freshwater reedbed was much less extensive than it is now, and was home to the last four remaining pairs of bearded tits in the UK, their population having been decimated by the preceding bitterly cold winter. The Scrape didn't even exist. And as for visitor facilities, there were none!
The RSPB was very different too. Minsmere was one of just a handful of nature reserves. Birdwatching was seen as an exclusive hobby. There were few facilities, and certainly no RSPB Shops or cafes. There was no avocet on the RSPB logo either.
In fact, there were no avocets nesting in the UK at all, and hadn't been for about 100 years. Then, just a few weeks after the management agreement was signed, four pairs of avocets were found nesting on one of the pools left behind by that wartime flooding. These avocets nested successfully at Minsmere in 1947, and also at the nearby Havergate Island, which itself became an RSPB reserve the following year.
Avocet by Jon Evans
Avocets have nested at Havergate Island ever since, but at Minsmere they didn't return until Bert Axell first created the Scrape in 1963. The rest, as they say, is history! So much so that this elegant black and white wading bird was chosen to become the RSPB's new symbol in recognition of its successful recolonisation of the UK.
Throughout the 1960s and '70s Minsmere, Havergate Island and Suffolk were synonymous with avocets, but they eventually spread farther afield into Norfolk, and more recently to many other counties in England.
To celebrate both Minsmere's 75th birthday and the subsequent arrival of avocets, let's take a look at the collective nouns associated with these beautiful birds. The first seems very apt when we talk so much about their colonisation of Minsmere: a colony of avocets. The term colony is used in association with many different birds, as well as such varied wildlife as ants, weasels and bats, but as a collective noun it is actually only linked to a few.
In contrast, an orchestra of avocets is unique to avocets, though it seems a strange choice of words. Yes, a colony of avocets can be very noisy, but they're hardly orchestral in the way that several nightingales, song thrushes or blackcaps might be. Perhaps it's origin relates to the flickering black and white pattern of a flock of avocets wheeling over an estuary, which could be said to resemble a musical score.
Avocet in flight by John Chapman
If anyone can explain this strange of term better than me, please let me know. Similarly if you know of any alternative collective nouns for avocets, I'd like to hear them too.
Regardless of these origins of these terms, let's celebrate these fabulous birds. Why not come along a spot them for yourself.
You're right that visitors had to write in advance to RSPB headquarters for a permit - Minsmere was also only open on a few days a week in the summer and not at all in winter. Even when permits were no longer needed in the 80s, Minsmere remained closed on Tuesdays for management work until as recently as 2004! I remember us hosting a big event to celebrate opening seven days a week!
There's lots more information about the history of the RSPB, which goes back much further than Minsmere, on our website at https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/our-history/ or for more information about the early years at Minsmere it's worth reading Bert Axell's book Minsmere: portrait of a bird reserve which is still widely available to buy secondhand
And that is the book I bought and received on publication day and had. Bert Axell and Eric Hosking signature's!
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