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Fingers crossed for a the possible recolonisation of this once common species. Photo: Vogelartinfo (
Fingers crossed for a the possible recolonisation of this once common species. Photo: Vogelartinfo ( image

Red-backed Shrike breeds on Dartmoor

Posted on: 26 Sep 2011

Red-backed Shrikes, once extinct in Britain, bred again on Dartmoor this summer, the second successive year of breeding in Devon this century.

Once again a partnership project set up a 24-hour watch to guard these rare birds against egg collectors and disturbance. This year the partnership found itself keeping close watch over two pairs which between them fledged seven youngsters, an amazing result.

The birds were protected by a team of RSPB staff and volunteers from Dartmoor Study Group, Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society and RSPB who spent thousands of hours guarding the birds day and night in all weathers. The protection scheme also involved the Forestry Commission, Natural England, Devon and Cornwall Police and Dartmoor National Park Authority.

Kevin Rylands, RSPB farmland conservation advisor, said: “We hope this repeat breeding in 2011 and the number of birds indicates a possible recolonisation of Red-backed Shrikes in this country. However, it is early days and, knowing that this bird is the target of egg collectors, we are already planning for 2012 to ensure that any nesting attempts next year are also fully protected, as well as making sure there is enough suitable habitat. It is unfortunate though necessary that we have to spend so much time and money simply to prevent egg collectors endangering the future of this rare bird.”

Colin Marker, volunteer, said “Having a successful outcome makes all the hours of watching and patrolling and being eaten alive by midges worthwhile! It has been a pleasure working with the various partners from whom I have learnt a great deal about the birds, and I was really thrilled by the result.“

Local MP Mel Stride, who saw two of the juveniles himself when meeting with RSPB staff to find out more about upland habitats and birds, said “It was very good to have the opportunity to observe the Red-backed Shrike at close quarters and to see this beautiful bird back on Dartmoor – the project partners have done an outstanding job in protecting it and promoting its return to our shores.”

Red-backed shrikes winter in east Africa, moving north to breed in Europe. Once found across many parts of southern England in habitat such as hay meadows, hedges, scrub and heath, the British population began declining in the 1930s. It last bred on Dartmoor in 1970 and was finally lost as a breeder in this country in the 1990s. Egg collecting, illegal since the 1950s, accelerated that decline and is still a real threat to the birds that bred on Dartmoor in 2010 and 2011.

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