ONE of Britain’s oldest birds is alive and well and living in a South Lakeland wood.

The marsh tit was ringed at the Roudsea Wood and Mosses National Nature Reserve (NNR), near Haverthwaite, in the spring of 2003 making it ten years, four months and 25 days old and a UK record holder. It beats the previous UK record for a marsh tit by some three months.

The marsh tit was once a common bird of most woodland across Great Britain, but is now suffering a rapid decline and has been lost from much of its former range over the past few decades.

Roudsea Wood has been the research site for a detailed long-term study of the marsh tit for over a decade, where evidence on the survival dynamics of the population of these birds is helping scientists understand how these tiny woodland birds are able to live in harsh conditions in the wild.

This work was begun by the late Jim Fowler and is being continued by Ken Hindmarch from Ulverston.

“This is a fantastic record,” said Mr Hindmarch. “This bird was first caught in 2003 as an adult female and she has been regularly recorded at our ringing site over the last ten years. That she was first caught and recorded as an adult female means she is probably older than our records show.” Nearly all of the marsh tits of Roudsea Woods now have colour rings on their legs, as well as the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) metal ring.

These colour rings mean birds can easily be identified as individuals from a distance even if they do not fly into the mist nets used by the bird ringers. This particular female marsh tit has a red-over-yellow colour ring combination on her left leg, which was easily seen by Natural England’s Steve Benn as he looked out of the National Nature Reserve Office window last week and saw the bird close to the bird feeder.

Roudsea Woods’s veteran marsh tit still has some way to go before challenging the European age record, which stands at 11 years and 11 months for a marsh tit from Sweden.

However, the research at Roudsea Wood has shown these little birds are tougher than they look and researchers are confident there is a chance the UK may yet boast a European record holder in South Cumbria in 2014.