Drone gives bird’s eye view of heron nests at Belton House as part of census


A drone photographed a bird’s eye view of the nests at a stately home.

Drone photography has captured a stunning birds-eye view of Belton House heronry, as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) annual census.

Used for the first time and flying 15 meters above the treetops (30 meters above ground), while adhering to strict wildlife monitoring guidelines, the drone allowed the team to get a much better picture of the number of nests on the National Trust site. heronry with minimal disturbance to the birds themselves.

Heron patiently watching for prey at Belton House. Credit: Steve Nesbitt, volunteer photographer at Belton (56064896)

Conservationist Andrew Chick, who led the survey, expected to find a few active nests, but was surprised to find 11, indicating that 22 breeding birds are happily incubating three to four eggs in each.

Andrew said: “This statuesque bird is often spotted along rivers across the country, where it waits patiently to capture its prey – mainly fish, amphibians, small mammals, insects and eels.

“They can live for up to 20 years, reach around 1 meter in height, with an impressive wingspan of 1.85 meters and weigh up to 1.5 kg. They usually lay their first egg in mid-March, so quite early, and have only one egg.” brood per year.

Birds eye view of the heronry at Belton House.  Credit: Andrew Chick (56064899)
Birds eye view of the heronry at Belton House. Credit: Andrew Chick (56064899)

“These herons probably chose to nest in this particular Scots pine because of its easy access to Belton’s ornamental ponds and rivers, which the National Trust actively manages and enhances.

“It’s likely that herons have been present at Belton for decades, but thanks to the view from above this year we were able to get a much more accurate record of the number of nests in the heronry.”

Carl Hawke, Nature Conservation Adviser at the National Trust, said: “It is great news to discover that our heronry at Belton is much larger than previously thought.

“We have worked in partnership with the Environment Agency and others to restore the stretch of the River Witham which runs through the Belton Estate.

Belton House Heronry.  Credit: Andy Chick (56064893)
Belton House Heronry. Credit: Andy Chick (56064893)

“This has included restoring natural features that were missing, for example increasing the speed of the river flow in some places, gravelling to create shallow areas and creating rapids – spawning areas. , to attract species like white-clawed crayfish and wild brown trout.
“Later this year we plan to recreate wetland habitat along the river which will further benefit the herons.”

Gray heron numbers in the UK have steadily increased in recent years, but in Lincolnshire there has been an unexpected drop.

As of 2021, only 20 gray heron breeding sites have been recorded in the county, so Belton’s 11 nests are well above the average number recorded.

Although the full 2022 tally for Lincolnshire has yet to be compiled, the team hopes the finding in Belton shows heron numbers in the county are improving.

Carl continued: “We don’t really know why the numbers had previously dropped here.

“This could be due to a number of factors such as competition for nesting sites with other birds, or possibly the effects of intensive agriculture on waterways, it is difficult to know. for sure.

“But clearly the conservation work we’ve done here in Belton is having a positive effect on the breeding population, which is fantastic.”

The simple objective of the Annual Heronry Census is to collect the number of ‘apparently occupied nests’ of herons (as well as egrets and other waterfowl) each year from as many heronries in the UK as possible. Last year’s census collected data from 796 sites and nearly 9,500 gray heron nests were recorded.

To donate to the National Trust’s conservation work, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/donate


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