Wiltshire's Great Bustard Group has suffered a tragedy after one of its captive birds was found dead in its pen at the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover.

The group, which has been bringing over bustard chicks from Russia for release on Salisbury Plain for the last eight years, had three birds, Bent Beak, Freddie and Nelson, all injured while awaiting release, in the pen at the Hawk Conservancy as a way of raising the profile of the reintroduction project.

But on September 17, the group’s co-founder Karen Waters was saddened to hear that Bent Beak had been found dead in the pen.

She said: “The cause of death is not conclusive but was probably trauma – head suspected – so he may have been spooked and collided with a post. Unfortunately, we will probably never know. Freddie and Nelson were both fine.”

Mrs Waters heard later the same day that Freddie and Nelson had been fighting and had to be put in separate pens. Nelson suffered a minor injury in the fracas.

Great bustards are prone to fatal injuries from flying into electricity cables and fences and the fatality rate of bustards in the wild has been put at 75 per cent.

But the population of great bustards in Wiltshire and the south west is rising with the import of birds from the Saratov area of Russia each year and, for the first time this year, the hatching of eggs brought over from Russia.