Bittern II

Bitterns with their distinctive booming call are synonymous with the Broads.

BitternBut there are only about 30 breeding pairs left in the UK, a third of which have made their home in Norfolk. As part of a European Union LIFE project we bought 42 hectares of arable land next to How Hill Nature Reserve which is being encouraged to revert to a wetland to attract bitterns and other rare birds.

Other partners in the project nationally are the RSPB, Natural England, several Wildlife Trusts and the Lee Valley Park. The partners have a total of 19 project sites between them.

Buttle Marsh in creationThe work at How Hill included re-profiling dykes to make them more wildlife friendly and creating shallow lagoons to be stocked with fish from the dykes. This promoted the growth of a new reedbed called Buttle Marsh, after one of the old names for a bittern.

The work at How Hill acts as an important demonstration project for conservation work funded by agri-environment payments and in partnership with Broadland Environmental Services Ltd.

Bittern facts

  • Bittern numbers are estimated from the number of male bitterns that 'boom' in the spring breeding season. They do this to attract females and establish their territory - each male has a unique voice.
  • Bitterns look like a small, brown heron but with a shorter neck. They are about as tall as a welly boot yet only weigh about the same as a bag of sugar.
  • The average booming territory of UK bitterns is about 20 hectares (or about 24 football pitches).
  • When alarmed, bitterns imitate the reeds by sticking their head up straight and swaying in the breeze.
  • Bitterns used to be hunted for food. In Norfolk they were sometimes known as a 'butterbump' because they have so much fat on them.
  • Their booming sound can be heard up to half a mile away.