County Herons On A High

By Shaun Micklewright, BTO's County Heron Recorder

Since 1928 the BTO have been monitoring Grey Heron breeding numbers in the UK, in fact it is the world's longest-running species census, beaten only in scope and longevity by the North American Christmas bird count, which began at the turn of the century. In recent years numbers of breeding Grey Herons breeding in the country have risen dramatically from fewer than 4,000 pairs to 6,600. This increase has undoubtedly been helped by the recent spat of mild winters. Grey herons, especially first winter birds, are known to be susceptible to cold spells.

Following the national trend, breeding heron numbers in Worcestershire are now at an all-time high. Worcestershire has two active heronries, our oldest and largest (by one nest) is near Grimley. It has continued to expand by steadily from eleven nests in 1981 to 28 occupied nests in 1997. This is still considered to be a relatively small heronry compared with the country's largest at Northward Hill in Kent which has 189 occupied nests! Even this would be small if Thomas Pennant was correct in writing to the famous naturalist Gilbert White in 1769 when he described a spectacular heronry at Cressi's Hall near Spalding where he counted no less than 80 nests in a single oak tree!

The county's second heronry, in a small wet wood near Upton-upon-Severn, is new, being recently discovered, and it already contains 27 occupied nests, all in mature Scots Pine. It is possible that some of these birds are from Croome Park as migration to more suitable sites is not uncommon. The move may be spread over many years but felling of nearby trees or uprooting by gales of any trees used for nesting is apt to cause a stampede.

With another new heron counting season fast approaching (tradition has it that birds return to their nesting haunts each season with the coming of the February moon) I would very much like to hear from anyone who may know of any other active heronry in Worcestershire.

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