Humber Island restored for birds

With the help of special machinery – and a grant of nearly £50,000 – avocets have been given the best possible chance to breed again in one of their favourite spots on the Humber.

Read’s Island was the most important breeding site for the charismatic avocet until very recently, when the island’s special pools were eroded by the scouring forces of the river.

The digger being transported across to the island. RSPB

The digger being transported across to the island. RSPB

Today, the RSPB has announced the completion of major work on the island, aimed at securing a brighter future for avocets and other wildlife.

The project to restore the island has been made possible through a SITA Trust Enriching Nature grant of almost £48,000.

The grant has allowed the RSPB to improve and protect 10 hectares of saline lagoon, a threatened habitat.

In recent weeks, a special low ground pressure machine with a 15m reach has been on the island, creating banks and islands that will provide ideal conditions for the avocets.

Pipes will allow the pools to flood on autumn tides and by next spring, conditions should again be suitable for avocets to return to breed successfully.

Just getting the machine and equipment onto the island required the use of a huge crane barge to transport the digger onto the island.

Avocet with chick on nest. Chris Gomersall (

Avocet with chick on nest. Chris Gomersall (

Pete Short, the RSPB’s Humber Site Manager, said: “While the loss of Read’s Island to the River Humber may be entirely natural, it is happening at a time when our coasts are being destroyed by rising seas caused by climate change. To the avocets, the result is the same – nowhere to nest.

“The restoration of the island has been technically challenging but emotionally uplifting – knowing the RSPB has restored one of the most important coastal islands in the UK makes me feel very proud.

“We could not have achieved this project without the support and help of many people, not least SITA Trust, the Nickerson trustees and Natural England.”

Read’s Island has traditionally provided a safe haven where avocets and other birds can breed and rest, safe from the reaches of the tidal river. Over 100 pairs have bred on the island out of a UK population of around 1,000 pairs.

In recent years, the special conditions on the island have also seen many hundreds of young avocets take to the wing and colonise other new sites in northern England

The avocet is an icon of British wildlife, a symbol of success against all odds and the bird on the RSPB’s logo.

They breed on shallow, salty pools around and use their strange, upturned beaks to sift food from the muddy waters. Life on the edge is never easy for these birds, with the risk of tidal flooding an all too familiar daily occurrence.

Avocets returned to the UK in 1947, a century after the birds were driven to extinction by land drainage, hunters and egg collectors.

Read's Island RSPB Reserve, North Lincolnshire. David Wootton (

Read's Island RSPB Reserve, North Lincolnshire. David Wootton (

When Britain faced what seemed to be certain invasion in the 1940s, the coastal marshes of East Anglia were flooded to hinder the German troops. This also provided ideal habitat for the avocet, which took the opportunity to mount its own invasion of the suddenly deserted coast.

Protection by the RSPB at Havergate Island and then Minsmere in Suffolk, allowed the bird’s range to gradually increase, with breeding populations concentrated around salty pools, like those found on Read’s Island.

The imminent loss of Read’s Island to the Humber threatened to put more pressure on the area’s avocets, which already face losing habitat to the man-made problem of sea-level rise.

The RSPB now looks forward to working with its partners around the Humber to ensure the avocet has a more secure future so that future generations can marvel at the strange bird with the upturned beak.

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