Dartford Warbler numbers at record high on RSPB reserves


Dartford Warbler numbers are at a record high on RSPB reserves, recently published statistics have revealed.

According to the RSPB Ecology Report, 183 pairs of the lowland heath specialist were counted in 2021, marking a notable comeback.

Dwindling down to just a handful of pairs in Dorset during a population crash in the 1960s, Dartford Warbler was at real risk of extirpation from the UK. However, thanks to concerted conservation efforts to create and restore heathland, and a series of milder winters, the bird has fared well since then.

Some 183 pairs of Dartford Warbler were counted on RSPB reserves in 2021 (Les Cater).

Many of these were found at RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk coast, where an impressive 37 pairs were counted – up from 23 pairs in 2019.

Mel Kemp, warden at RSPB Minsmere, oversaw heathland restoration at the site, including across 17 ha of ex-coniferous plantation, and was delighted with the outcome. He said: "We have seen a steady increase in the number of Dartford Warblers alongside other species relying on heathland habitats, such as European Nightjar. All the hard work of restoring this habitat has really paid off."

Heathland is one of the UK's most threatened habitats. Although it supports a range of rare and endangered wildlife, 80% of UK heathland has been lost since the 1800s due to land-use change.

Habitat specialists such as Woodlark and European Nightjar also nest on heathland sites, which are often popular places for recreational activities, including walking, cycling, horse riding and picnicing. Fire risk can also be very high on heathlands and there have been many incidences of BBQ-induced blazes at these habitats in recent years.

Mel Kemp added: "Increased responsibility for the Dartford Warbler population means we need to continue to restore, manage and protect the heathland we have left here in the UK to best ensure the future of not just this species, but many others too.

"With 13% of species that depend on our heathlands and grasslands now at risk of being lost from the UK, our conservation and monitoring work, as captured in the RSPB Ecology Report, has never been more important in the face of the Nature and Climate Emergency."