Rare wading birds are back at Washington Wetland Centre

Avocets are back at Washington Wetlands Centre. Pic: Ian Hamilton.
Avocets are back at Washington Wetlands Centre. Pic: Ian Hamilton.

A Wearside wetland reserve has welcomed back a bird so rare that it was once declared extinct as a breeding species in the UK.

The WWT Washington Wetland Centre saw its first avocets, which are still rare to the region, arrive yesterday, just 10 days later than the site’s previous record, set in 2014.

Avocets, curlew, redshank and oystercatchers on the shingle islands at Washington Wetlands Centre. Pic: Leanne McCormella.

Avocets, curlew, redshank and oystercatchers on the shingle islands at Washington Wetlands Centre. Pic: Leanne McCormella.

The black and white wader has been spotted nest prospecting on Wader Lake’s shingle islands, which were enhanced and doubled in size last autumn thanks to a £21,400 of Biffa Award funding.

Reserve manager John Gowland said his team was thrilled to see the benefits of the conservation work in action so soon, and they are hoping for a great breeding season ahead.

“For the avocets to return and begin nest prospecting on the new habitat is just fantastic and a real conservation success story,” he said.

“Avocets have only been breeding at WWT Washington for 10 seasons – from our first pair in 2006 to a site record of 23 adults last summer – so we can’t wait to see if their overall numbers will be boosted this year thanks to the extra habitat the Biffa Award allowed us to create.”

The shingle islands were extended with the help of a 21,400 Biffa Award from the Landfill Communities Fund.

The shingle islands were extended with the help of a 21,400 Biffa Award from the Landfill Communities Fund.

As well as increasing potential nesting space for avocets – once declared extinct as a breeding species in the UK – the improvements will benefit a host of other wading bird species this season, including regionally important lapwing and a significant local population of breeding common tern.

“Already this year we’ve had good numbers of various waders using the island, but most crucially we’re seeing regular flocks of 200-plus lapwing, which are red-listed of conservation concern and in national decline. That’s double the number of recent years,” added Mr Gowland.

“Looking ahead to the summer, our site is home to a key breeding colony of amber-listed common tern, peaking at about 100 pairs.

“If the new islands can support an increase in the numbers of terns – which are feisty defenders of their territories and nests – we also increase protection for other species sharing the lake at that time, such as gadwall, shoveler and redshank.”

Biffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK.

Gillian French, head of grants at Biffa Award, said: “It’s so exciting to see avocets thriving in Washington.

"The return of this iconic bird is a real conservation success story, and we’re pleased that Landfill Communities Funding can be used to help support it.”