Wednesday, 5 January 2022

RSPB Winterbourne Downs 2021 Review
Extreme high altitude plug planting on top of the new 4-8m high butterfly bank

RSPB Winterbourne Downs 2021 Review

The RSPB team at Winterbourne Downs would like to say a huge thank you to all their volunteers for their help in 2021. This has included: Bird surveys, Butterfly monitoring, Conservation work parties, Invertebrate pit fall trapping, School visits and guided walks, Wildflower seed sorting, Tree safety work, Infrastructure maintenance. All this despite the Covid lockdowns and restrictions!

With the help of volunteers we are seeing the reserve change and develop each year. For example, our common bird census in 2021 has showed some very positive results since the first census in 2006.

Stone-curlew: increased from 2 to 7 territories
Lapwing: increased from 8 to 12 territories
Corn bunting: increased from 3 to 26 territories
Grey partridge: increased from 1 to 3 territories
Skylark: increased from 62 to 166 territories

Other beneficiaries of habitat improvements include hares, with a good number on a single count day in June this year; two pairs of barn owls; several marsh fritillaries, Adonis blue and a couple of Duke of Burgundy were seen across the reserve. Green-winged orchids are now recorded at several sites and the re-introduction of the rare red hemp-nettle produced over 80 plants in a count in July.

Stone-curlew had another excellent year with 7 pairs producing 8 fledged chicks. We are hoping that our 11 new chalk scrapes at Winterbourne Downs will entice even more pairs to breed and rear chicks in the coming years.

The new circular chalk scrapes created this autumn will provide essential habitat for chalk specialist invertebrates, and hopefully provide ideal nesting habitat for stone-curlew and lapwing. With the help of our volunteers we have planted these, and a new 200m long butterfly bank, with wildflower plugs of key butterfly food plants of some of our rarest butterflies, such as Adonis blue. These large chalk features will act as stepping stones across the reserve and provide resilience in the face of climate change by strengthening suitable habitat between Porton Down and Salisbury Plain in the heart of the Wiltshire Chalk Country.

There have been many other wildlife highlights but a first for Winterbourne Downs turned up on an arable field margin during an invertebrate survey this year. Aphanus rolandri is a large ground bug found on well-drained sites and is associated with common fumitory. We were delighted to see this nationally scarce species on the reserve for the first time.

Patrick Cashman, Nicky Quinn and all the team at RSPB Winterbourne Downs