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Awesome is a much overused word but I feel my use of it here is justified – I truly was in awe of these most beautiful birds, seen at the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in East Sussex last Saturday.

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The Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) is one of Britain’s conservation success stories, hence its use as a logo by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. After years of being killed for food and taxidermy and having its eggs robbed by collectors, the Avocet disappeared from its British breeding sites around 1842, and it wasn’t until 1947 that just four pairs were rediscovered breeding in Suffolk. Incredibly, this was, in part, due to the Second World War: damage from an exploding bomb had inadvertently recreated their ideal habitat of shallow ponds and muddy islands near the seaside at Havergate and, at Minsmere, where the coastal marshes had been flooded to prevent enemy troops invading, shallow ponds also formed when the marshes began to dry up.

Further breeding sites have now been created and protected (at Rye Harbour, with electric fences to deter predators like foxes and badgers) in suitable areas around Britain’s coastline, and the number of breeding pairs is estimated to be around 500. Long may their success continue!

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