A CRITICALLY endangered species is thriving thanks to a South Tyneside conservation expert.
The number of spoon-billed sandpipers has increased by a quarter this year, after experts intervened to hand-rear chicks hatched from eggs collected in northern Russia.
As few as 100 breeding pairs remain in the wild round the world, and the 16 additional hand-reared young are a significant boost for the species, which is facing extinction.
The breakthrough is partly down to former Boldon man Nigel Jarrett, head of conservation breeding at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, who led the egg-collecting trip.
He said: “These 16 hand-reared spoon-billed sandpipers will hopefully return to breed in two years’ time and help pull this bird back from the edge of extinction.
“I’m very proud of my colleagues who’ve been out in Russia this summer. They did a fantastic job under very difficult and hostile conditions.
“They even had to chase off marauding bears on more than one occasion.”
Mr Jarrett got involved with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust when he was a schoolboy in Boldon, and worked as a volunteer at the WWT site in Washington.
He added: “I’d also like to thank everyone who visits WWT Washington Wetland Centre, because they’re directly supporting conservation by helping us develop the experience in rearing rare birds and putting it to use where it’s most needed in the world.”
Experts from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre in Gloucester worked with Russian scientists to source eggs from breeding pairs soon after they were laid.
Taking the eggs prompted each breeding pair to lay a further clutch, which they were left to rear themselves.
One pair produced a total of six fledglings this year – far more than the average.
The tiny fledglings now face their first 8,000km migration to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Along the way, they will struggle to find undeveloped coastal mud flats to rest and feed, and on arrival, risk being trapped in nets.
Birdwatchers in Asia are being asked to report any sightings of spoon-billed sandpipers, and all hand-reared birds have a tiny coloured flag attached to one leg.
Intervening to increase breeding productivity in wildlife like this is known as head-starting.
It is a short-term strategy. Conservationists are also tackling the problems of illegal trapping and habitat loss along the spoon-billed sandpiper’s migration routes.
For a fuller account of the expedition to Russia and details of how to support spoon-billed sandpiper conservation, go to www.saving-spoon-billed-sandpiper.com