Smitten by the bittern: a certification scheme for farmers who preserve biodiversity on their land

Cosmos Magazine


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By Cosmos

“I’m drawn by the ideal of marrying farming and wildlife conservation,” writes ecologist Dr Matt Herring at Cosmos Weekly.

The Australasian bittern is a wading bird, like a heron or an egret, but they’re unbelievably sneaky – like a phantom. It’s a real challenge to get ecological data on them to guide conservation. You can spend all day and you might hear just one bird and perhaps catch a glimpse of its head in the reeds, and that could be a good day. They’re quite a large bird, and can have up to five chicks, so you might think they’d be easier to find. But they just melt into the vegetation – they’re absolute masters of disguise.

It’s also called the bunyip bird, because the booming call of the breeding males has for millennia been linked to the sound of the mythical bunyip. You can hear the sound from two kilometres away, but it’s so deep that if you try to record it on your phone, you can’t hear it. You need really high-quality speakers.

For about 20 years now I’ve been drawn to our cover-dependent Australian waterbirds – the rails and crakes and painted-snipes, and certainly the bitterns. I’ve always had an affinity for wetlands, and I’ve spent much of my life trudging around the swamps in the Riverina in the reeds and rushes and the sedges. But it was the bitterns’ presence in the rice fields there that drew me to its irrigation landscapes.

“Pursuing sustainable farming, particularly for biodiversity, is a huge growth area.”

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