Heathlands are among the UK’s most spectacular landscapes, but their value goes beyond their striking beauty. The Wealden Heaths Special Protection Area, a network of heathlands in east Hampshire, is designated because it provides habitat for three internationally important bird species: woodlark, nightjar, and Dartford warbler.
Woodlarks are secretive birds, but their characteristic undulating flight and melodic song make them instantly recognisable. Nightjars are nocturnal, with near-silent flight that makes them formidable hunters. By day they roost on the ground, using their impressive camouflage to become almost invisible. Dartford warblers can also be elusive, but will often perch on the top of gorse scrub to deliver their scratchy song, while holding their long, slender tail at a jaunty angle.
Sadly all three species are under increasing pressure from human activity, and their numbers have declined in some areas as a result. Because they nest on or near the ground they are often disturbed during their breeding season, which can result in them losing their young to cold and predators. So while the restoration and management of heathlands has seen their populations partially recover, they still need our help to thrive.
Between March and July, Wealden Heaths’ combination of dense gorse cover and open clearings provides the perfect habitat for the woodlark, nightjar, and Dartford warbler to breed. Here are a few easy ways to help protect these amazing birds when you’re next in the area:
- Stick to the path – many nest sites on the ground are well hidden, so stay on the path to avoid stumbling across them.
- Bring the lead – curious canines can cause birds to desert their nests, so look for signs letting you know when it’s best to use a lead.
- Bag and bin it – dog poo can change the environment in ways that harm our birds, so be sure to dispose of it properly.