Jan 02 2024

Breeding bird results for 2023

In 2023 we recorded 405 pairs of Nightjars, 437 pairs of Dartford Warblers and 169 pairs of Woodlarks.
The Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) was created to protect three species of threatened heathland birds, the Nightjar, Woodlark and Dartford Warbler. The numbers are monitored by a team of more than 30 experienced volunteers coordinated by 2Js Ecology and we’re pleased to bring you the 2023 results. This is the 21st consecutive year 2Js Ecology have coordinated the survey, which is an incredible testament to their passion and dedication. We thank John Eyre and John Clark for their continued hard work.

2023 was a good year for Nightjar, with an estimated number of 405 territories. This is an increase of 9.5% on the total for 2022, and close to the record high of 413 in 2021. The fall in numbers during 2022 was attributed to a major heathland fire at Ash Ranges, but at least 15 of the lost territories were reoccupied in 2023.

Dartford Warbler numbers fell to their lowest level since 2018 when the population was hit by the bad weather during March, known as the ‘Beast from the East’. Dartford Warbler are very weather dependent and the short spells of very cold weather during the 2023 winter are likely to account for the latest fall.

Woodlark numbers have also decreased and while this result is disappointing, numbers remain above the 2018-2022 average. The decline is almost certainly due to habitat availability, as Woodlark are very dependent on areas of low vegetation or bare ground. Ongoing management of heathland habitats, to clear scrub and keep them in optimal condition, is vital.

The table below compares the 2023 totals with recent years, as well as the year of the relevant baseline survey. All three species are doing well when compared to the baseline:


Bird species No. of pairs at SPA notification (year) No. of pairs in 2021 No. of pairs in 2022 No. of pairs in 2023
Nightjar 264 (1998-99) 413 370 405
Dartford Warbler 445 (1999) 553 702 437
Woodlark 149 (1997) 196 192 169


What’s next?

Nature is complex, but factors that will help get all three species back on an upward trend include…

  • Everyone continuing to help by keeping to main paths and keeping dogs out of vegetation, especially March to September
  • Everyone continuing to help by preventing heathland fires
  • Everyone continuing to help by discovering and using the places listed in ‘Greenspace on your doorstep’
  • Everyone continuing to help by spreading the word
  • Good weather, especially mild winter weather
  • Continued brilliant work by land managers, keeping the habitats in tip top condition

What does it mean for you?

The Special Protection Area was setup to protect these rare breeding birds, but it does so much more than that. It protects the heathland habitat for all sorts of wonderful wildlife, and of course gives the landscape we love a huge amount of protection from inappropriate development.

Pictorial messages for "Keep to main paths", "Keep dogs out of vegetation" and "Prevent fires"



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