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Boost for rare Dartmoor bird

Last modified: 16 September 2014

Dunlin in summer plumage, wading, Snettisham reserve

Image: Chris Gomersall

A new bird study on Dartmoor reveals dunlin numbers have increased in response to efforts to restore the moor’s famous mires.

The dunlin is a small wading bird. They breed across northern Europe, Russia and North America, but globally their most southerly breeding location is on Dartmoor. In the UK their population numbers 9,600 pairs and they are completely reliant on good quality blanket bog for breeding. 

The Dartmoor Mires Project is a pilot scheme exploring the feasibility and effects of restoring degraded blanket bog on Dartmoor, and is being co-ordinated by Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) and steered by a partnership of the Environment Agency, Duchy of Cornwall, Natural England, South West Water and the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council. 

Measuring success

The project is monitoring the impact of restoration, which involves blocking eroding drainage channels with peat, on the hydrology and habitat of the sites. As part of this program, the RSPB was contracted in 2014 by the Dartmoor Mires Project to conduct a bird survey of the blanket bogs on the north moor, repeating that of 2010 and smaller surveys in 2007 and 2013.

The project partners are really excited to see such a rapid and dramatic response by our Dunlin population. 

The survey of dunlin this year has revealed a 37 per cent increase between 2010 and 2014 with 22 territorial pairs compared with 16 in 2010.  At one restored site three pairs were considered to be breeding in 2014, compared with two in 2013, and just one in 2010 and 2007. A second restored site had a probable breeding pair for the first time in 2014, compared with no breeding records in any of the previous surveys. A third area where restoration has taken place produced six pairs compared with three in 2010.

Helen Booker, Conservation Officer for RSPB in the South West said; “It would genuinely seem that the restoration works have had an important positive effect on the dunlin breeding population. This is great news, and it’s to be hoped that continuing efforts to restore the mires will continue to pay off and secure the future of this wonderful bird here at its most southerly site in the world.”

Alison Kohler, Director of Conservation and Communities, DNPA, speaking on behalf of the Dartmoor Mires Project said; ‘The project partners are really excited to see such a rapid and dramatic response by our Dunlin population. This is a fantastic success story for the Dunlin and for the Dartmoor Mires Project’.

More to come

The work being carried out to restore Dartmoor’s blanket bogs is just one of a number of projects in the West Country to restore wetlands.

Ms Booker added; “Across the West Country there’s a lot of good work being done to put the life back into these unique wetlands. It’d be great to see this work continue and to see it replicated on other uplands in the UK. Currently a large proportion are in very poor condition, and given the services then can provide when they are in good condition, such as slowing river flows in times of flood and carbon storage, we need to restore them.”

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