Appeal to help protect the kingfishers of this county

Beds, Cambs & Northants Wildlife Trust is appealing for help to protect kingfishers in the county
Beds, Cambs & Northants Wildlife Trust is appealing for help to protect kingfishers in the county
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People are being encouraged to come forward and help protect the county’s remaining 10 pairs of breeding kingfishers.

The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire is using the New Year as a time to inform and recruit people to help them ensure the survival of the beautiful birds which live along the riverbanks of the Nene Valley.

Kingfishers used to be a familiar and well-loved sight along waterways up and down the country.

But since 1974, the number of breeding pairs of kingfishers has fallen to an estimated 3,500 to 5,500 nationally.

In Northamptonshire, the population of the bright blue bird is now down to just 10 breeding pairs.

The figure for the county has more than halved between 2003 and 2013, and similar trends are being seen in nearby counties Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Kingfishers need open, steep sided riverbanks where they can nest safely, as well as unpolluted waterways with a plentiful supply of small fish.

A hungry kingfisher brood can demand more than 100 fish a day from their parents.

Pollution, changes in water depth and speed of the water flow can result in unsuitable conditions for fish and other food sources.

A prolonged, harsh winter can wipe out large populations as kingfishers starve to death.

But there are several ways in which people can help protect the county’s population of kingfishers, including donating £5 a month.

This money could be used to protect riverbanks from cattle erosion by installing stock proof fencing.

It could also cover the cost of sensitively clearing silt and vegetation from small river channels to expose nesting and feeding places for kingfishers.

Donations can pay to install flow detectors to vary water speed which encourages waterways to “snake, leading to improved conditions for the birds’ food sources.

The cost of campaigning against threats to kingfishers’ homes is another way in which donations can be used to help protect the species and its future.

A spokesman for the county branch of the trust said: “The unmistakable irridescent flash of a kingfisher adds a vibrant enhancement to a walk by a river on a winter’s day.

“Incomparable with any other bird seen along a riverbank, these brilliant jewel-bright birds add a touch of magic to the muted hues of winter.

“The Wildlife Trust BCN help ensure that suitable nest sites on rivers and streams are kept clear and undisturbed.”

The spokesman added: “Restoration work by the trust is vital to keep river beds clean, especially those areas which accumulate silt.

“Invasive plants like Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed die back in winter, leaving the banks bare and vulnerable to erosion which silts up watercourses, so the trust clear them away from riverbanks, for instance, along the River Nene in Northamptonshire, where the kingfisher population is now down to a mere 10 breeding pairs.”

Volunteering is another way for people who would like to support the trust’s work.

A team of more than 800 volunteers across the country already help the charity manage its nature reserves, monitor wildlife or help out in its offices.

For more information or to find out how you can help protect the county’s kingfisher population, go to www.wildlifebcn.org/kingfisher.

For more details about volunteering for the trust, go to www.wildlifebcn.org/volunteer.

Kingfisher facts

When the male kingfisher wants to impress a female he offers her fish. If the female accepts, they form a bond and courtship begins.

There are 87 different species of kingfisher in the world, but only one, Alcedo atthis, breeds in Europe.

The largest kingfisher in the world is Australia’s laughing kookaburra, weighing up to 500gm, or 15 times as much as our bird.

To differentiate our kingfisher from the other 86 species, it is officially known as the river kingfisher.

Few British kingfishers ever move more than 250km, though freezing weather will prompt them to move to the coast.

Severe winters can lead to as many as 90 per cent of Britain’s kingfishers perishing.

The kingfisher doesn’t have a song, though it does have a distinctive flight call, a shrill whistle.

Though fish form the main part of the kingfisher’s diet, it also eats many aquatic insects, ranging from dragonfly nymphs to water beetles.

Many young kingfishers die within days of fledging - their first dives leave them waterlogged so they drown.