A BIRD lover is leading a project to save one of the world’s rarest species from extinction.
Nigel Jarrett, who is grew up in Boldon Colliery, recently made a 7,000-mile round trip to the Russian tundra to collect spoon-billed sandpiper eggs and bring 13 of the birds back to England to establish a breeding programme.
Mr Jarrett is head of conservation breeding at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. He started out as a volunteer at the trust’s site in Washington when he was just 11.
Only 200 pairs of the waders are now thought to exist in the wild – with many of the sparrow-sized birds falling victim to hunters and habitat destruction during their winter migration to the tropics.
The birds – being looked after in a specially built, heated unit in Slimbridge – were hatched by Mr Jarrett and his team in the Russian wilderness and then flown as tiny chicks to Moscow.
After a quarantine period in Moscow Zoo, the birds were flown to Heathrow and transferred in insulated boxes to Gloucestershire, where they will be used to produce new birds to be released into the wild.
Mr Jarrett is now monitoring the birds while they receive 24-hour care.
He said: “I’ll be in every day over Christmas and New Year, making sure they are doing OK.
“These birds would normally range from the frozen Arctic to tropical coastal wetlands in South-East Asia and, despite being held in unnatural surroundings, they have done very well.
“The new site at Slimbridge is purpose-built and it’s crucial we keep it warm because at this stage in the birds’ lives, they’d normally be in the tropics.”
He added: “In a lot of ways, we are going into the unknown, but every day that passes is a success and we’ll be keeping a close eye on how they are doing over the holiday period.
“The priority is to keep the birds alive and healthy so they can breed.
“It seems a long time ago that I was volunteering at Washington, but this is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Mr Jarrett has worked at Slimbridge since 1964, when he left home at the age of 17 to pursue his ambition to work as a conservationist.
His parents, former miner Gordon and wife Maureen, have also moved to Gloucestershire.
The team aims to create a population in captivity for future reintroductions and as a safety net, should the species die out in the wild before threats along their migration routes can be addressed.
The threat to their survival comes from the destruction of habitat on their migration route and unsustainable levels of trapping in Myanmar and Bangladesh, where they spend the winter.
Mr Jarrett added: “That has to be addressed as well, but the breeding project is vitally important.”