Breaking-ground for ground-nesters
Sitting in busy south-east England, the heaths of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area give us some much-needed breathing space. Perfect for recreation, as well as nesting! I’m sure anyone who lives in striking distance, counts themselves very lucky to have so much open space on their doorstep. I know I do.
Rest assured, the heaths have been granted the highest level of protection possible under UK law. Declared a Special Protection Area in 2005, they can’t be developed or impacted by development, and in 2009 the local councils published a ground-breaking strategy to make sure of it. A strategy that allows much-needed development to continue, but strong enough to minimise the impacts of a growing population.
This level of protection is possible because three rather amazing birds choose to nest here. The nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler. They nest right on the ground, or in the case of the Dartford warbler close to the ground, amongst the heather and gorse, making them extremely vulnerable to being disturbed.
To protect the birds, and in turn the landscape, the local councils decided on a two-pronged approach. The first prong is us, the Thames Basin Heaths Partnership, a not-for-profit organisation spreading the word about nature
conservation. You might bump into our friendly team out and about on the heaths, sharing our passion for these precious places and celebrating its wildlife. Your children might meet our Education Officer during a school activity or maybe you’ll join in the fun during Heath Week. Perhaps you’re already a member of Heathland Hounds, our growing community of dog-walkers sharing the message?
We can all help protect the heathland landscape to enjoy today, tomorrow and into the future. There’s a lot we can do, whether we’re out for a walk with the dog, just taking photographs or out for a ride. The birds’ most vulnerable period is March till mid-September, so sticking to main paths, and keeping dogs close, is a simple way to make sure we don’t stray too near a nest. Throwing balls for dogs along the path, rather than into the heather, is a brilliant way to make a huge difference.
Please help us spread the word, and if you happen to come across someone who doesn’t think wildlife is important, perhaps gently ask them to consider that the wildlife is protecting the landscape for us all.
The second prong of the strategy has the rather cumbersome name of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace, or SANG, but I’ll leave that to the next instalment…