A rare bird has returned to a nature reserve, thanks to hard work by a wildlife charity.
The distinctive melodic song of the woodlark is now being heard at the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve after a successful campaign to restore the habitat of the little heathland bird.
Other wildlife such as adders, slow worms and butterflies are also benefiting from the heathland restoration of the former conifer plantation on the reserve north of Crowborough, as part of the RSPB’s Give Nature a Home campaign. Heathland as a habitat in the UK is now rarer than the rainforest worldwide.
Like many native British birds, the woodlark, which is slightly smaller than a skylark with a shorter tail, has undergone a steep decline in numbers over the last few decades. This is mainly due to destruction and disturbance of the places where they feed and breed. It’s now on the up, thanks to projects like the one at Broadwater Warren, but there is a long way to go before numbers are stable and thriving again.
Work to restore historic habitats at Broadwater Warren has meant that the woodlarks, who build nests on the ground, are using the site in record numbers on newly-restored heathland.
The song of male woodlarks can be heard from early February as they stake out their territory and this year they have even started singing in January. The adult birds that make their nests on the ground are vulnerable to disturbance and need protection. Last year record numbers were present, and in October a flock of around 30 was seen. Other ground nesting birds such as snipe, meadow pipit and tree pipit have also returned to the reserve since the restoration started.
In November a rare great grey shrike visited the reserve encouraged by the restored heathland where it likes to hunt for food in winter. The great grey shrike is known as the ‘butcher bird’ for its habit of creating a larder in trees and bushes by skewering its prey to convenient barbs.
Steve Wheatley, RSPB Weald reserves site manager, said: “It’s crucial that we provide protection for breeding birds. The adult birds guarding their nests on the ground are very vulnerable to disturbance and they, and their nests, eggs and young, need our help. We welcome visitors, but we are making it clear that visitors with dogs must keep their pets on leads on the reserve between now and September 30 to protect the ground breeding birds who could abandon nests and young if disturbed. All wildlife also needs protection now.”