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A better home for our birdlife.

Byline: Tony Henderson Environment editor tony.henderson@ncjmedia.co.uk

BIRDLIFE in the North East will be boosted by a funding award for a riverside nature site.

The PS21.4K award to WWT Washington Wetland Centre will be used to extend and enhance the shingle islands at the site's Wader Lake - home to some of the UK's most northerly breeding avocet.

The current habitat has reached capacity for nesting and more birds are prospecting than can be accommodated, so a project to double its size will be getting underway soon thanks to the generous funding, which came from the Biffa Award.

As well as increasing potential nesting space for avocets - once declared extinct as a breeding species in the UK - a host of other wading bird species will benefit from the plans too, including a significant local population of breeding common tern.

Reserve manager John Gowland said: "Both avocet and common tern are amber-listed birds of conservation concern and our site is home to some key breeding colonies, with the terns peaking at about 100 pairs and avocets increasing from the first pair in 2006 to a site record of 23 adults in summer 2015.

"Thanks to this fantastic Biffa Award funding we're now able to double the area of suitable breeding habitat by adding a new island along with a loafing spit, which will be ideal for smaller species such as little ringed plover.

"These will be adjacent to the current islands in the open area of the lake and easily visible from our lakeside hides.

"Avocets have only been breeding in the North East for ten seasons, so to potentially boost their numbers significantly would be a huge conservation success story.

"Plus, by increasing the numbers of terns - which are feisty defenders of their territories and nests - we also increase protection for other species sharing the lake, such as gadwall, shoveler, redshank and lapwing."

And it isn't only breeding waders which will benefit from the improvements - both wintering birds and humans are set to reap the rewards as well.

"We're home to one of the largest inland freshwater curlew roosts in the UK and in winter, when the water levels are high, these 1,000-plus birds will now have double the space to settle down on at dusk", added John.

"Meanwhile, the addition of a sand martin bank at the far end of the lake near the Prince's Trust hide will hopefully encourage the species to nest here for the very first time.

"Both of these spectacles will be in clear view of wildlife watchers, so our visitors and members will experience even closer encounters with unforgettable wetland wildlife.

"And last but not least, our own hardworking staff and volunteers will have their workloads eased by the construction of a hard-surface causeway. After each breeding season, the islands are topped up with shingle and we currently painstakingly wheelbarrow it over eroding mud, but a causeway will allow us to get a tractor out onto the habitat instead, which is brilliant.

"We're incredibly grateful for the Biffa Award funding and can't wait to see how this exciting new development will establish and mature." 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 (www.biffa-award.org).

Gillian French, Biffa Award Programme Manager, said: "We're thrilled to be supporting WWT's work to boost the numbers of these rare wading birds. This project is an excellent example of how the Landfill Communities Fund can help to rebuild biodiversity across the UK, and encourage more communities to engage with wildlife."

Under the Landfill Tax Regulations 1996, landfill operators like Biffa Group Ltd are liable for taxes on waste deposited in landfill sites. The Landfill Communities Fund allows them to donate a small percentage of their tax liability to projects working to improve communities living within the vicinity of landfill sites.

Both of these spectacles will be in clear view of wildlife watchers John Gowland

CAPTION(S):

Leanne McCormella, of Washington Wetland Centre Iain Buist
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 19, 2015
Words:678
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