Katie Richardson

NATURE reserve staff are celebrating after hearing their first-ever booming bittern.

Saltholme RSPB reserve, on the outskirts of Hartlepool, homes three bitterns, a rare breeding bird that came close to extinction in 1997.

Male bitterns make a “booming” sound when they are trying to attract a female mate and it is the first time the mating call has been heard since the reserve opened in 2009.

The last time it was heard in the Tees Valley was more than 30 years ago, in 1979.

Toby Collet, Saltholme’s assistant warden, said: “The boom sounds rather odd, that’s for sure.

“It’s a bit like a foghorn, with the sound often carrying over vast distances. On a quiet, still day you might even be able to hear it in Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.”

The population of bitterns declined throughout the 20th Century as the reed beds they inhabited were drained.

Staff at Saltholme have been working to re-establish the reedbeds in an attempt to boost the population of bitterns, which is as low as 80 across the UK.

Mr Collett added: “We’ve worked hard to look after the reedbeds at Saltholme, so that wildlife can thrive. We’re thrilled that the bittern appreciates our efforts.”

The project is a result of the successful partnership between the Teeside Environmental Trust and the RSPB.

David Kitchen, chairman of the Teeside Environmental Trust, said: “When the Saltholme project first started in 1997, bitterns had reached their lowest ebb. We told ourselves that a bittern booming from the reed beds would be a sign that we’d have done a good job.”