Spoon-billed Sandpiper team recognised

01 Oct 2014 | No. 2014-59

At a ceremony in London, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) Conservation Breeding team were awarded the Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology, for their exceptional work in helping to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper - one of the rarest birds in the world - from extinction.

Nigel Jarrett receiving the award from
The Duke of Edinburgh

The project to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper incorporates some highly innovative ornithology. In particular, the manipulation of breeding attempts to increase productivity of the 100 breeding pairs remaining in Chukotka, Russia. This relies on sound ornithological knowledge of breeding strategies and behaviour, something the WWT team have in spades.

Two elements of the breeding biology of Spoon-billed Sandpiper are the subject of innovative methods in this ground-breaking project. A small flock of adult Spoon-billed Sandpipers is under specialist care in captivity at the WWT HQ in Slimbridge. These birds were imported into the UK from Russia in 2011 and 2012, and it is hoped that they will breed in captivity as the flock becomes established. This spring birds were singing and displaying in the aviaries. The achievement to establish a potential captive breeding population of a small Calidrid shorebird is highly innovative. This flock is a precious insurance policy, a last resort in case the species does become extinct in the wild, and buys time to tackle the multitude of other threats faced by the wild population.

The second innovation is ‘head-starting’ where eggs are taken and hatched in Russia, and then the chicks are hand-reared to improve productivity to wild nests. Once old enough, the hand-reared birds are returned to the wild where it has been hoped that they resume normal migratory behaviour and eventually return to Russia to breed. In May 2014 a returning ‘head-started’ individual from 2012 was seen and photographed in Taiwan on its way back north to the breeding grounds and later bred successfully, raising one chick to fledging. This demonstrates the real value and success of the innovative ‘head-starting’ strategy.

The award was presented by The Duke of Edinburgh at a ceremony hosted by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) at the Mall Gallery in London.

Nigel Jarrett, WWT’s Head of Conservation Breeding said, “This is a real honour for the WWT conservation breeding team. The plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has pulled together conservationists from all over the world and we’re very lucky to work with the support of a great many experts in the field.

“There’s a long way to go before the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has a secure future in the wild and some of the biggest challenges still lie ahead, but it’s wonderful to feel that we’ve played a part in moving towards that goal.”

Andy Clements, BTO Director said, "The Marsh Awards for Ornithology enable BTO to recognise the excellent work of ornithologists at a variety of scales, all of whom are partners with BTO in ensuring science contributes to conservation.  The innovative science demonstrated as part of assisting the recovery of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population is an outstanding illustration of what can be achieved.  The WWT team are thoroughly deserving winners of this Award."

Notes for Editors

  1. WWT SBS

  2. The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology celebrates an important contribution which takes forward our understanding of avian ecology or conservation science.   This award is likely to go to an individual or group focusing on one of two types of recent work in the field of ornithology, either a scientist or group of scientists who have published a recent paper or revealed a new finding which substantially advances our understanding in a relevant area of avian ecology, usually one that has implications for conservation, or an individual or group whose work positively reflects this new research or other appropriate pioneering work in the field, to the wider public.

    The Marsh Awards are supported by the Marsh Christian Trust and presented by the BTO at the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) event in October. See below details of each award.

    The Trust runs a portfolio of Awards with a number of internationally and nationally recognised organisations such as Barnardos, the British Museum and the Zoological Society of London. The Awards seek to recognise unsung heroes who all aim to improve the world we live in. Recipients of Marsh Awards range from scientists working in conservation biology and ecology, to authors and sculptors from the arts world, and those who give their time unselfishly to work with the young, the elderly, people with mental health issues and for our heritage. http://www.marshchristiantrust.org/Home
  3. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org
  4. The Society of Wildlife Artists is a registered charity that seeks to generate an appreciation of and delight in the natural world through all forms of fine art based on or representing the world’s wildlife.

    Through exhibitions and publications of fine art the Society aims to further an awareness of the importance of conservation in order to maintain the variety of the world’s ecosystems and its wildlife. http://swla.co.uk/

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