The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) is the most widespread large predatory bird in Britain and it’s flourishing, with an estimated 12205 occupied nests in 2010. Herons nest communally, usually in tall mature trees, and some heronries are known to have been in continuous use for hundreds of years. The largest in Britain is in a private wood on the north side of Budworth Mere, in Cheshire, though I saw very few heron during my frequent walks along the southern shores of that lovely lake last winter.
This is a bird the Brits used to eat – from the early medieval period right through to the nineteenth century it was an important and relatively expensive table item. Historically, the heron was a favourite victim of falconry and, so that the wealthy could enjoy their sport, its protection was enshrined in law (being found guilty of a second offence could result in the loss of the right hand, a third in death!). Once falconry lost its popularity, the heron lost its protection and, in fact, now the bird often gets persecuted by fishermen who accuse it of taking ‘their’ fish. Personally, I think it’s the heron’s fish.