LONG-TERM MONITORING of one of the country's most charismatic little birds, the Bearded Tit, has revealed that the River Tay is possibly their largest stronghold in the UK.

Bearded tits are found only in reedbeds and the historic loss of habitat across Britain has resulted in the population being fragmented and dissipated across isolated areas.

But records from ringing work - where ornithologists fit minute identification bands on the birds' legs to gather monitoring data on their movements and lifespan - has shown that 2014 was a record-breaking year, with 723 of these birds were ringed at the Tay reedbeds - more than double the number in 2013.

Data from the BTO suggests that the Tay reedbeds were home to 45% of the bearded tits ringed in Britain last year, highlighting the importance of this site to the country's population.

The ringing work was undertaken by the Tay Ringing Group along with Iain Malzer, whose PhD research is revealing more about the movements of these birds. Surprisingly, the birds only colonised the reedbeds along the Tay, the largest continuous area of reedbed in Britain, in the early 1990s.

RSPB Scotland now manages more than half of the reed bed area, working with local landowners to protect and conserve this important habitat which is also home to species such as sedge warblers, water rails, marsh harriers, and reed buntings. Reedbeds are very fast growing and the cutting and management of them is crucial to creating the best possible habitat for bearded tits and other wildlife.

RSPB Scotland reserves ecologist Heather McCallum said: "The Tay reedbeds are a stronghold for bearded tits in Britain and the work done by the Tay Ringing Group and Iain during the course of his PhD means that we're able to keep track of how the birds are faring here. This data not only underlines the importance of the Tay reedbeds to the population but also demonstrates how the careful management of this environment has enabled these birds to thrive here.

"Bearded tits are an amber list species and although 2014 was a good year for them at the Tay they are vulnerable to severe winters. Numbers can fluctuate year on year so it's vital that we continue to manage the reedbeds to maximise the quality of their habitat."