LIFE blackwit UK - Recovering and securing the future of the globally Near Threatened black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) in the UK

LIFE15 NAT/UK/000753

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Contact details:

Contact person: Nick Folkard
Tel: 441767693207
Email: nick.folkard@rspb.org.uk

Project description:


The black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) is categorised as “near threatened” in the IUCN Red List, and is one of the fourteen UK breeding birds that are of global conservation concern. It is classified as “vulnerable” in Europe and “endangered” in the EU – making it one of only 27 bird species that are “endangered” or “critically endangered” within the EU. Two subspecies of black-tailed godwit occur in the UK: L .l. limosa and L. l. islandica. This project focuses on the former, for which the conservation need is much greater.

This population is small and vulnerable (less than 60 pairs), but there is scope for it to increase and become more significant with the right conservation measures.

As with populations elsewhere in Europe, the main driver of the UK decline is falling productivity due to factors operating on the breeding grounds. Black-tailed godwits require a productivity of approximately 0.4 fledglings/pair for a population to be stable. Since 2005, average annual productivity has been 0.32 fledglings/pair at the Nene Washes and 0.34 fledglings/pair at the Ouse Washes - both Natura 2000 network sites in eastern England and the two main breeding sites for the species in the UK. Under current estimates of productivity and recruitment, the populations at both sites will decline and may be at risk of extinction.


The overall purpose of the LIFE blackwit UK project is to improve the conservation status of the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) in the United Kingdom, specifically by recovering the UK breeding population of L. l. limosa. This project is focused on the two main breeding sites for this species in the UK, the Nene and Ouse Washes.

In terms of EU added value of the project, as well as being important in terms of their conservation value, the Nene and Ouse populations, which jointly form a single meta-population of black-tailed godwits, also make up a significant part of the European breeding range of this subspecies. Unless conservation measures are increased, the UK breeding population could eventually go extinct. Given that this population lies at the north-western edge of the species’ EU range, this would represent a significant threat in a European context.

Specific project objectives are:

  • To increase the productivity of black-tailed godwit at key breeding sites in the UK to the level necessary for population stability by the end of the third year of the project, and to a level sufficient for population growth by the project end;
  • To maintain and enhance 1 100 ha of black-tailed godwit habitat at these key sites;
  • To improve understanding of the local and migratory movements of black-tailed godwits breeding in the project area;
  • To trial the use of “head-starting” as a conservation tool for black-tailed godwits (i.e. moving eggs from nests into incubators and releasing the hatched chicks into the wild once they can fly); and
  • To increase support among local communities for the long-term conservation of black-tailed godwits, and raise awareness of waders, the project special protection areas (SPAs) and the importance of “wader wetlands” among the general public and decision-makers.
  • Expected results:

  • Predation impacts on black-tailed godwits will be significantly reduced;
  • At least 1 100 ha of habitat will be enhanced for black-tailed godwits, either directly (e.g. through pool creation and ditch re-profiling) or through improvements to water control infrastructure;
  • The productivity of black-tailed godwits at the project sites will increase so that the mean over the five years of the project exceeds 0.4 fledglings/pair and the mean over the following five years (2022–2026) exceeds 0.6 fledglings/pair;
  • The population of black-tailed godwits at these sites will increase, with a target of 55 to 65 pairs in the Nene/Ouse metapopulation by 2021;
  • The number of sites supporting successful breeding of black-tailed godwits in the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens will increase by 2021. More specifically, this species will breed successfully on at least one additional site adjacent to the Ouse Washes;
  • Support will increase among local communities for the long-term conservation of black-tailed godwits and the protection of project sites, with at least 10 local groups and 25 schools directly engaged in the project;
  • General public awareness of waders and wetland conservation will increase;
  • Awareness and knowledge of head-starting methods for waders will increase among wader conservationists worldwide; and
  • The long-term prospects of black-tailed godwits in the UK will be enhanced through the creation of a national action plan.



Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Birds


migratory species‚  environmental awareness‚  population dynamics

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 2009/147 - Conservation of wild birds - Birds Directive (codified version of Directive ...

Target species

 Limosa limosa     

Natura 2000 sites

SPA UK9008031 Nene Washes
SPA UK9008041 Ouse Washes
SCI UK0013011 Ouse Washes
SCI UK0030222 Nene Washes



Coordinator The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description The RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation NGO in Europe. It has more than 2 000 paid staff, approximately 17 000 active volunteers, and more than 1.1 million subscribing members. It has world-class expertise in all aspects of bird conservation, manages more than 200 nature reserves throughout the UK, covering almost 150 000 hectares. In addition, it carries out a wide variety of research, advisory, education and advocacy work and has been involved as coordinating or associated beneficiary in a large number of LIFE projects.
Partners WWT(The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust), United Kingdom


Project reference LIFE15 NAT/UK/000753
Duration 01-AUG-2016 to 31-DEC -2021
Total budget 2,797,653.00 €
EU contribution 1,678,592.00 €
Project location East Anglia(United Kingdom)


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Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version