The recovery of the bittern, one of Britain’s most enigmatic birds, continues apace.

A monitoring programme by the RSPB and Natural England reveals that there are now 87 booming males – the make the sound to establish territory – five more than last year, in the UK, mainly in East Anglia (62) and the Somerset levels (14).

The shy bittern, which is red-listed, was re-established in Britain in 1911, following 25 years of extinction here. In 1997, bittern numbers were at their lowest since the 1920s, when only 11 males were recorded, but improved management of reedbeds has led to numbers increasing.

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‘The bittern is perhaps the best example we have of the value of targeted conservation action,’ says Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director. ‘With funding from government, the European Commission and the business sector, the bittern has gone from strength to strength. However, with dire predictions of swingeing cuts to Government budgets, we remain deeply concerned that the future for the bittern, and other threatened wildlife, hangs in the balance.’

The secretive bittern, a wading bird, is a member of the heron family; its streaked brown plumage makes it difficult to spot among the reedbeds it frequents.