Great white egret nests in Somerset, UK

The great white egret, a species of heron, has nested for the first time in Britain, according to wildlife organisations.

The nest site, at Shapwick Heath, in Somerset,  is being monitored by staff and volunteers from Natural England, the RSPB and Somerset Ornithological Society.

One of the birds carrying nesting material. Pic Mike Hannon / Natural England

One of the birds carrying nesting material. Pic Mike Hannon / Natural England

Activity on the site strongly suggests that the birds may already have young, however this is unconfirmed.

The great white egret

More usually found in mainland Europe, sightings of the great white egret have been increasing in England.

A small number have been visiting the reedbeds and wetlands of the Avalon Marshes. Until now, none of these visitors have nested and there is growing excitement that this summer could see the beginning of a growing trend.

The female bird was ringed as a nestling in May 2009 in Besne, in France, and records show she travelled to Lancashire, Wales and Gloucestershire before visiting the Somerset Levels for the first time in April 2010.

She has stayed in the region ever since and managed to cope with two relatively cold British winters.

24-hour watch

Local birdwatchers spotted nesting activity on the Shapwick Heath Reserve in early April this year and alerted the Somerset Ornithological Society, Natural England and the RSPB.

The three organisations immediately established a 24 hour nest watch operation with volunteers, who have currently clocked up over 1000 hours of nest-watching time.

This ensured the birds were not disturbed whilst they completed their nest, concealed deep in the reed beds.

This species tends to return to the same nest site each year, so it is hoped that this pair will be pioneers and that a colony of great white egrets will become established on the Avalon Marshes.


Simon Clarke, Reserve Manager for Shapwick Heath said; “This is hugely exciting and we’ve been keeping everything crossed and a close eye on the nest since the signs of nesting activity were first noticed last month.

“In the last few years, we’ve been carrying out a lot of work to improve the reserve’s reedbeds for bitterns and otters – but it seems great white egrets have also appreciated the work we’ve done.

Tony Whitehead speaking for the RSPB said: “This is another major step forward for nature conservation, and the RSPB is delighted to be working alongside NE and the Somerset Ornithological Society to protect these pioneering birds as they breed for the first time.”

Visitors to Shapwick Heath are welcome but parking is very limited. Therefore, in order to avoid disturbance to local residents, visitors are asked to park at the Avalon Marshes Centre, Westhay, BA6 9TT, where you will find directions to the Great Egret Watch.

Shapwick Heath wetland reserve is managed by Natural England and covers over 500 ha at the heart of the Somerset Levels and Moors.

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