Return of the Natives

08 December 2020 | Posted in Chris Bentley , Rye Harbour , Wildlife , Wetland
Return of the Natives
Bearded Tit © Toby Houlton

In an earlier blog I recounted the tale of species which have been new arrivals on the Nature Reserve in the last 50 years. However, as well as these, we also have a small group of birds, Raven, Buzzard, Peregrine and Bearded Tit, that likely bred here in the past, were lost due to either persecution or habitat loss, but have re-established themselves since the declaration of the LNR in 1970. 

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Both Raven (above) and Buzzard (below) had become extinct as breeding species in Sussex by the end of the 19th century, largely due to persecution. Breeding ravens had returned to Sussex by 1938 (though at least one bird from the pair concerned had escaped from captivity), while Buzzards did not re-establish themselves here until the 1950s. However, both species continued to suffer from persecution and in addition Buzzard, in common with other birds of prey, was adversely affected by organochlorine pesticides. A reduction in persecution in the latter half of the 20th century (as well as a reduction in the use of organochloride pesticides for Buzzard) saw an increase in numbers for both species. At Rye Harbour these species became increasingly common during the 21st century, with breeding occurring in 2018 for Raven and 2020 for Buzzard (our 100th breeding species in modern times!).  

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© James Duncan

As with the two previous species, Peregrines (below) were mercilessly persecuted in Sussex, though rather than being wiped out completely as a breeding bird a handful of pairs managed to retain a foothold on coastal cliffs and the occasional inland chalk pit. As with Buzzard, Peregrines suffered badly from the effects of organochlorine pesticides after the Second World War, probably more so due to their complete reliance on live avian prey. Again a reduction in persecution coupled a reduction in the use of organochlorides from the 1960s saw a gradual increase in population during the latter half of the 20th century, with the first Rye Harbour record in 1984 and the first breeding in 2016 on Camber Castle, when a pair fledged two young.

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In contrast to the previous species, Bearded Tit became extinct in the UK in the mid-19th century, not as a result of persecution but probably due to habitat loss, but re-established itself as a breeding species in Sussex in the 1970s. The first breeding in modern times at Rye Harbour probably occurred early in the 21st century and up to eight pairs have bred in recent years. This species has undoubtedly benefited from extensive reedbed creation undertaken at Castle Water in 2003 as part of the EU LIFE – Nature project ‘reedbeds for Bitterns’ followed in 2006 by work funded by the governments ‘Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund’. These projects created 130+ islands, extensive areas shallow water and freshwater ditches and increased wetland area by 15 ha. In addition, since then much work has been carried out to maintain the reedbeds, mainly through removal of encroaching willow.



  • Robin Harris:

    09 Dec 2020 11:38:00

    Well done, Chris, for reminding us that there is some good news at a time when that’s hard to come by.

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