ORNITHOLOGISTS are celebrating the resurgence of one of the country’s most threatened bird species as its breeding season comes to an end.

Groups monitoring the ring ouzel on the North York Moors said despite late frosts, snow and heavy rain, counts of the increasingly rare bird were up on last year, when a record 14 nests were found on Spaunton Moor, near Kirkbymoorside.

The British population of the upland migratory bird has declined steadily since the early 20th century, with a 27 fall in number between 1970 and 1990.

A national survey in 1999 estimated there were fewer than 7,600 pairs of ring ouzels, which are slightly smaller and slimmer than a blackbird, remaining in Britain.

George Winn-Darley,owner of the 7,000 acre Spaunton Moor estate, said it had bucked the national trend by reclaiming bracken-covered areas of the heather moorland managed primarily for red grouse and planting rowan trees.

Conservationists said the ring ouzels would be able to migrate in the autumn after being well-fed on rowanberries, which would ripen better this year due to the warmer summer.

As ring ouzels nest on the ground, a key part of the conservation drive has been to tackle threats from predators, such as rats, stoats, foxes and weasels following 13 chicks being killed on the moor last year.

Mr Winn-Darley said rings of traps set around nest sites had led to greater fledging success.

He said: “The success of ring ouzels and other species makes me very proud.

“We are delighted such rare, endangered species have been given crucial help by our grouse moor management.

"Touch wood, the breeding season for all moorland wildlife is looking much better than last year's when it was blighted by cold and persistently wet weather."

While human disturbance is cited as one of the main causes of the species’ decline, the North York Moors National Park Authority is aiming to increase the number of day visitors to ten million annually.

Mountain bikers and walkers, particularly those with dogs, are being urged not to deviate from tracks.

Mr Winn-Darley said the effects of the disturbance were also being lessened by optimising the bird’s habitat on steep heather banks and through the predator control work.