Rare black-tailed godwits were released into their new home at Welney by the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust this week.
The 25 birds are all part of Project Godwit which saw eggs removed from nests and hatched in incubators, before staff at the wetland centre hand-reared them.
It’s the first time the conservation technique, known as ‘headstarting’, has been used in the UK.
On BBC Springwatch last week, Chris Packham described the project as “really good, proactive conservation”.
Headstarting will dramatically increase the number of young black-tailed godwits that fledge in the UK this summer. The surrogate human ‘parents’ have been able to safely raise far more chicks than the godwits themselves, away from the dangers of predators and flooding.
And, crucially, by removing the eggs from their nests early, they have prompted each pair of godwits to lay a second clutch, giving the parent birds a chance to raise a brood of their own.
Now the hand-reared birds have been released, they are expected to meet up with other black-tailed godwits hatched in the area this summer, and spend several weeks feeding on the rich wetlands before starting their migration to Spain, Portugal and West Africa.
Their human carers will keep a close eye on them via telescopes and radio tags in order to monitor their progress.
WWT’s Nicola Hiscock has overseen the hand-rearing process. She said: “It has been a nerve-wracking day, but I’m delighted to say that all the godwits have now taken their first flights in the open air and started to explore.
“The biggest worry for us is that they’d fly off somewhere unsuitable for them, but we have observed several birds in the wetlands here at WWT Welney, which is their ideal habitat.
“Over the next few weeks we’ll keep a daily check on them, just to make sure that they’re doing OK. But then, they’ll be off on migration and we probably won’t see them again until they return to breed in two years’ time.”