Britain’s biggest bird could make comeback in latest rewilding plans

Britain’s biggest bird could make a comeback under new rewilding plans, as the Wildlife Trusts call for the government to restore our wetlands to their former glory and bring back the dalmatian pelican.

The birds, which are up to six foot in length and have a wingspan of up to 11 foot, disappeared from our wetlands before medieval times, but are present in the fossil record.

The majestic species was common 12,000 years ago and bones have been found in peat bogs in Norfolk, East Yorkshire and Somerset from the Bronze and Iron ages. Eventually, 2,000 years ago, the drainage of these wetlands, alongside hunting and disturbance, led to the extinction of the pelican.

Nikki Williams, Director of Campaigns and Policy at The Wildlife Trusts told The Telegraph: "Pelicans soaring over marshlands would be a fantastic sight – but first we need more, bigger, better wetlands. We want to see the return of species that were once common but before this can be done we must ensure there’s plenty of the right sort of wild habitat first.

"As things stand, we’re one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet and that’s because we have so few wild places left."

They are currently found across the Mediterranean and Asia, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.

The plans were drawn up by rewilding advocate and bird expert Benedict Macdonald, author of Rebirding, who said there are currently a handful of sites left which would be appropriate for the bird.

He said: "Soaring effortlessly between the ever-growing marshes of East Anglia, dalmatian pelicans will become the crowning glory of conservation wetlands famous across the world.  Their presence is likely to help enhance the protection of fish stocks; a flagship indicator species.

"Radical as this idea may seem, remember that Russians and  Americans, Australians and Greeks, look out, each day, on birds whose wings blacken the sky. We simply cannot fail to bring back Dalmatian Pelicans to our marshes. They were, and could be again, our greatest living bird."

Craig Bennett, the CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, supports the plan but added that a holistic approach to restoring nature needs to be taken by the government rather than approving species one by one.

He said: "Where a species can be demonstrated to have been native to UK and it is no longer present because of human activities then, in principle, we would enthusiastically support its reintroduction when the circumstances are right. That means creating the right habitat, building community and other stakeholder support, making sure management mechanisms are in place to deal with potential challenges, and also impacts on other species in a country with ecosystems not nearly as wild as they could or should be.

"Benedict’s proposal for the reintroduction of Dalmatian pelicans is exciting and certainly needs to be put into the mix. But there’s a lot to do."

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