CAREFUL environmental planning by local fishermen has succeeded in attracting a rare species to the River Weaver.

The Guardian investigated after seeing reports on Winsford Anglers’ website that an elusive bittern had been spotted on a stretch of the waterway.

Club secretary and treasurer, Steve Beech, thought he’d spotted the tell-tale plumage of the mysterious, heron-like bird while fishing.

He immediately text club fisheries and conservation manager, Graham Bayliss.

“Receiving the text message was very exciting because these birds are extremely rare in Cheshire. I hoped the sighting was genuine,” said Graham, a keen wildlife enthusiast and nature photographer who confirmed the sighting and managed to capture some stunning photographs of the bird.

The bittern’s presence was kept quiet between a few club members over winter before its movements further afield were noticed by others.

Graham explained that the key to attracting the bittern was down to the anglers’ pledge to care of the riverbank and wider habitat.

“Conservation and habitat management are key parts of our environmental policy,” he said “We are keen promote to this and show there is much more to angling than just catching fish. It is a tribute to the club’s hard work to have such a rare bird on our waters.”

Future club conservation projects include installing nest boxes and developing a wild flower meadow at New Pool. There are also hopes a bank can be installed along the Weaver to attract sand martins.

Whitegate schoolchildren will be involved in other club projects, including the creation of a dipping pond and habitat creation to attract mice, voles, grass snakes and other animals.

For more on Winsford and District Angling Association, see Bitterns (Botaurus stellaris) spend much of their time hidden in reed beds where they can stand motionless in an upright position imitating the reed stems.

The best time to see them is when they venture into open water to feed. Very similar to a heron, the bittern can be distinguished by its brown mottled appearance.

Males make a ‘booming’ sound in spring.

There are estimated to be only 600 wintering bitterns in the UK between October-March.

They are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s ‘red list’ – among the most threatened species in the UK.