Natural England - “Thank you” to all the Shapwick Heath volunteers for over 2,000 hours of great white egret work

“Thank you” to all the Shapwick Heath volunteers for over 2,000 hours of great white egret work

10 October 2012

Over 40 volunteers recently joined Natural England Board Member Doug Hulyer at a barbecue to say thank you for their work on the great white egret project.

Great white egret
Great white egret at Shapwick Heath NNR

This summer saw the first successful British nesting attempts by great white egrets – not one, but two nests raised chicks to fledging – at Natural England’s Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve. The Reserve sits at the heart of the ‘Avalon Marshes’ - a fantastic landscape of farmland and nature reserves. Complementary work by organisations such as Natural England, the RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Hawk and Owl Trust mean that wetland habitats and species are thriving here.

Great white egrets have been present in small numbers on these reserves for a number of years, but have never bred. However in April this year it was confirmed that there was a nest, followed by a second in June. To combat the real risk of disturbance and threat from ‘egging’, with help from both the RSPB and Somerset Ornithological Society, a 24 hour protection programme was put into place. This involved over 50 volunteers from across the organisations and two specially employed staff.

Speaking at the barbecue Doug said, “Since announcing the news of the nesting, well over 3,500 people have visited Shapwick Heath to see this unique event, thanks in the main part to the hard work of our Reserve staff and over 50 volunteers. Natural England is hugely grateful to this group of people without whom we may not have seen these birds fledge”.

Simon Clarke, Shapwick’s Reserve Manager said, “Our volunteers did a fantastic job keeping the news quiet and protecting the site. In early May Natural England was able to announce the news of a successful nesting. By early June we confirmed three chicks and by late June we also announced news of a second nest. Again staff and volunteers across the organisations did a fantastic job keeping its profile low. By July the first three chicks had successfully fledged and another chick fledged in September.”

Among the volunteers attending the barbecue was Martin Sage, who first reported the birds to Natural England. Martin volunteers for Natural England, the RSPB and Somerset Ornithological Society as well as a number of other organisations. He first got involved at Shapwick Heath NNR in the summer of 2000 and since then has been involved in monitoring work, leading guided walks and practical conservation work tasks.

Martin said, “When I first arrived in this area I just wanted to put something into my local Reserve and haven’t really looked back. One of the great things I have noticed in my time here has been the way that the conservation organisations work closely together both to benefit wildlife and also to allow visitors the opportunity to experience this amazing landscape.”

Liz Newton, Access and Engagement Director said, “The volunteers and staff have done a fantastic job protecting the site, dealing with huge regional, national and international media attention and meeting and informing the thousands of tourists the egrets have attracted to the Avalon Marshes. To date volunteers have contributed well over 2,000 hours of their time to the project – an amazing level of commitment and dedication to protecting our natural environment.”

Natural England can call on the services of almost 3,000 volunteers who work on a range of activities to help us deliver for the natural environment. In 2011 almost 3,000 volunteers provided over 29,300 working days for Natural England. These people come from all walks of life and range and Natural England is hugely grateful for all their hard work.