Rare bird seen in Bexley for first time in seven years

By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter

A rare bird, which hasn’t been seen in the borough of Bexley since 2013, has been spotted at a nature reserve which activists claim is under threat from a new waste-burning incinerator.

Local wildlife enthusiast Donna Zimmer captured the sighting of the endangered and elusive Bittern while bird-hunting at Erith’s Crossness Nature Reserve earlier this month.

Describing the find as “a massive local rarity”, Ms Zimmer said the striking heron was attracted to reedbed habitats – of which small patches still exist at the Erith Marshes, where the bird was spotted, in the Crossness Nature Reserve.

Critically threatened on the UK mainland, the sighting is bitter-sweet for wildlife enthusiasts, after London Mayor Sadiq Khan revealed last week he would no longer be pursuing a legal challenge against a plan to build a second waste-burning incinerator at nearby Belvedere.

The bittern

The plan by Cory Riverside Energy has long been opposed by local politicians and wildlife enthusiasts, who fear the new development would drive wildlife at Crossness across the river.

Campaigners say the second plant, which would be even closer to Cory’s boundary on the site, would force birds like the red kite, buzzard, marsh harrier or barn owl away from the habitat.

A spokesman for Cory said the new plant would form an important part of London’s low-carbon future by diverting waste from landfill and convert into “secure and reliable” low carbon energy.

The Bittern has come back from the brink in Britain after concerted conservation efforts which included restoring and creating the extensive areas of reedbed habitat the water-side heron requires for both feeding and nesting.

The Bittern became extinct in the UK around 1885 due to persecution and habitat loss, came back to breed in Norfolk in 1911, reached 80 breeding males by the 1950s, before declining again to just 11 in 1997 – before increasing again.

The photographer said her photo shows the bird in a typical location “at the reedbed edge, where its habit of standing stock still with its head pointing upwards, and stripey plumage can make it hard to see unless you know it’s there”.

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