Nature's Way

Rare Woodlarks find a safe winter haven on the Symondsbury Estate

A flock of one of Britain’s rarer breeding birds, the Woodlark, was present throughout last winter on the outskirts of Bridport. 

Up to 22 birds were present between early November 2021 and the end of February 2022 in a single stubble field less than a mile from the centre of Bridport!

This is one of the largest wintering flocks ever recorded in Dorset, the previous highest being 30 at two locations in the East of the County in the 1950s. Wintering records are uncommon and primarily recorded in East Dorset, where the bird breeds on heathland.

The field was quite weedy, had no public access, and thus was an ideal wintering habitat where these shy, secretive, and well-camouflaged birds could feed undisturbed. Other birds feeding in the same area included Peregrine Falcon, Skylark, a large flock of Linnets, Stock Dove, Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit.

Dr Tom Brereton of Bridport Bird Group, who found the flock alerted the Estate about the birds and our owner Sir Philip Colfox, agreed not to plough up the field for a new crop whilst the birds were present. This included the late winter “Hungry Gap,” a critical time for bird health and survival.

Philip commented, “We were delighted to hear that the birds were present on our land. We are doing more and more for wildlife on our Estate, so we’re more than happy to provide a safe winter haven for them, especially given their national rarity.”

The UK Woodlark population stands at just 2300 pairs, classifying it as a nationally rare species, where its status is monitored through the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Dr Tom Brereton of Bridport Bird Club said, “Finding the flock and securing their winter welfare was extremely satisfying. It is a good example of how local co-operation between wildlife enthusiasts and landowners can really help our struggling farmland bird populations.”

The Woodlark is a close relative of the Skylark, which breeds on the Symondsbury Estate and has a UK population of 1.6 million pairs. Woodlarks are smaller, shorter tailed, have a broad white stripe above the eye and have a beautiful fluty song and call. 

– Tom Brereton

Photo credit – (Tom Brereton)

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