2016 has certainly been a year to remember. But among the stories of political upheaval and celebrity deaths, there have been victories for our wildlife.
At the RSPB, great things have been achieved for nature to ensure its future. Here are 10 conservation success stories from the past 12 months.
1. Cirl Bunting success
The stand-out success of 2016 for the RSPB and partners was the 2016 national Cirl Bunting survey, which showed an increase in these rare birds to more than 1,000 pairs – 10 times more than in the 1980s. This is thanks to a highly successful reintroduction to Cornwall and decades of partnership working with farmers in Devon, supported by Natural England and grants to recover nature-friendly farming.
2. Booming bitterns
The number of booming Bitterns on wetland reserves increased again to a record high of 161 at 76 sites, proving another success story for conservation.
3. Highest ever number of Bearded Tits
Numbers of these rare birds reached their highest level since records began. This year, the latest data from 2014 was processed, revealing 772 pairs in the UK thanks to extension and improvements to the reedbed habitat they depend on. It is thought that the population has continued to grow since then.
4. Scotland’s eagles soar
Often thought of as Scotland’s national bird, the Golden Eagle was granted ‘favourable conservation status’ in 2016. Results from the fourth national golden eagle survey showed that the population of these birds of prey has increased to 508 pairs in Scotland: a rise of 15% since the previous survey in 2003.
5. Heathland habitats
For the second year running, both Nightjar and Wood Lark were at their highest ever numbers on RSPB heathland reserves.
6. Smooth Snakes breed for the first time
Rare Smooth Snakes bred for the first time at RSPB Aylesbeare in 2016 – seven years after they were first re-released into the area.
7. The Great Crane Project bears fruit
A survey recording the number of Common Cranes in the UK revealed a population of about 160 birds – the highest number since these large birds returned to the UK in 1978 after an absence of more than 400 years. Cranes are now found in south west England, East Anglia, Yorkshire, East Scotland and south Wales. In August, commuters between Norwich and Ely were treated to the sight of three crane chicks, which hatched on RSPB Lakenheath Fen nature reserve.
8. Big win for smallest species
Despite usually just spending the winter on our shores, a pair of Little Gulls stayed at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg for the summer, bred and fledged two young. This is the first known successful nesting of little gulls in the UK.
9. Manx shearwaters on the up
St Agnes and Gugh in the Scilly Isles were officially declared rat free in 2016, and as a result the breeding population of Manx Shearwater has increased from 22 pairs in 2013 (pre rat eradication) to 73 pairs in 2016 (post rat eradication) with two new locations colonised. The rat eradication phase of the Shiants project in the Hebrides was completed in March and, if all continues to go well, these islands will be declared rat free in winter 2017.
10. Decade of the Albatross Task Force
2016 marked the 10th anniversary of the Albatross Task Force, which was established to reduce albatross deaths as a result of fishing hooks: the main threat to these impressive birds which can live well into their 60s. The number of albatrosses accidentally caught reduced by 80% in five out of 10 target fisheries, and the RSPB is on track to hit this figure in a further two.