News archive

February 2018

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Dartford warbler perching on heather

Latest News from the RSPB's Weald reserves

Broadwater Warren
The reserve bird list has increased again with the sighting of brent geese in January. The total number of bird species recorded is now at 95. It won't be too long before we crack 100. Another excellent find was recorded by one of our younger volunteers, William Arrowsmith, who spotted a Dartford warbler from the nightjar viewpoint. Whilst they have been recorded over the winter on previous years, we have been patiently waiting to see them breeding on the reserve, and are hoping that this year could potentially be the year it happens. If you spot any Dartfords or hear them singing, please let us know.

On the subject of ground nesting birds, it is time to issue the yearly reminder for dogs to be put on leads starting on the 1st of February. Early nesting birds such as woodlark will begin displaying in February, and it is important that we give them the peace and privacy they need so that they can smash last year's record of 13 breeding pairs . There is a walk on the 28th of March which is free to all, including your 4 legged friends.

You will be pleased to hear that the contractors will be taking their heavy machinery off site in the coming weeks. The work over January has involved creating bare ground habitat, removing non-native rhododendron, and repairing tracks following the thinning work in December.

The bare ground creation took priority due to the need to stop heathland work by February. Bare ground is a very important habitat, and it is in our management plan to maintain roughly 2-5% of the heathland areas as bare ground to benefit a variety of specialist species, and to diversify the age of the heather. For example, reptiles and invertebrates will use bare ground to bask, hunt and burrow in, and certain plants and mosses (usually rarer ones) will need a bit of disturbance to establish. In terms of our priority ground nesting birds, woodlarks use bare ground to feed, and as it recovers, nightjars will use it for nesting (they only ever lay eggs on bare ground or moss). This particular bit of work this year is in partnership with Butterfly Conservation for the benefit of a rare butterfly, the silver-studded blue. This butterfly is found on Ashdown Forest, and lays its eggs on young emerging heather. Broadwater Warren and other stepping stone sites have been chosen for bare ground creation to provide more freshly emerging young heather to try to encourage the Ashdown Forest populations to spread outwards.

On 6 January a group of volunteers from the RSPB's Rainham Marshes reserve joined our own weekend volunteers for a joint work party to continue the job of removing pine and birch saplings from the heath. The Rainham volunteers are used to working in wetland habitats and for them it was a real change of scene. The joint team had an enjoyable day and cleared a large quantity of scrub. The extra help was more than welcome in the last few weeks of heathland work.

Tudeley Woods

Volunteers have continued their work out on the heathland areas of the reserve, clearing acres of birch saplings that have been invading the open habitat. The interface between heathland and woodland is also an important area for management. We manage these spaces to provide a gradual sloping scrubby edge from the woodland towards the lower lying heath to maximise the edge habitat. This provides many feeding and nesting opportunities for birds, bats, insects and more. To do this, we clear sections of edge habitat on rotation, which essentially resets the clock on tree growth; keeping the ideal structure for wildlife. Evidence of the importance of edge habitat was found by a volunteer who uncovered an old dormouse nest in heather whilst clearing some birch.

In February,volunteers will be managing more track edges, where trees will be coppiced to allow more light for wildflowers and their pollinators, and to allow the growth of small scrubby trees. As the scrub on track edges becomes thick enough, it could provide potential habitat for scrub nesting birds such as nightingale, which were heard on the reserve last year.

Fore Wood

The coppicing work has continued at Fore Wood, however, January did see a bit of surprising behaviour by RSPB staff in the form of encouragement of a non-native species *gasp*. This particular species is not invasive, and has a near to 0% chance of spreading around the reserve any time soon. Over the summer, a Japanese cherry tree (Prunus 'Kanzan') was identified by one of our volunteers, Owen Johnson, who just so happens to be a tree expert. Japanese cherries are ornamental cultivars which do not germinate or survive in the UK without being grafted to the rootstock of one of our native wild cherries. After a bit of investigation around the roots, Owen discovered that there was no scarring or evidence of grafting. This means that Owen was pretty certain that this Japanese cherry is the only recorded instance of one growing from a seed in the entire of the UK. These trees don't usually last that long, so we carried out some coppicing around it to let in more light and preserve this very unusual specimen.

Fore Wood has already been showing signs of spring. The first bluebell shoots have been poking their green heads out of the ground, and song thrushes can regularly be heard around the reserve. In the coming months, listen out for the drumming of woodpeckers and signs of other ancient woodland plants such as wood anemones and dog's mercury. Fore Wood is always a colourful place in the spring so if you have never been, make sure you get out and visit it this year.

Volunteering Opportunities

Fore Wood weekend work party - 1st Saturday of the month. Meet at 9:30am at Fore Wood lane entrance, Crowhurst, TN33 9AG
Tudeley Woods weekend work party - Takes place once a month on a Sunday. Meet at the main car park at 10am
Tudeley Woods weekday work party - Takes place every fortnight on Wednesdays. Meet at the main car park at 10am
Broadwater Warren weekend work party - Takes place once a month on a Saturday. Meet at the main car park at 9:30am.


Walk with a warden - Broadwater Warren
Wenesday 28th March

1030am to 1230pm
Price: Free

Join us for a stroll around Broadwater Warren as spring kicks into action. There's no need to book, just turn up for a casual walk around the reserve to look for wildlife and reflect on our achievements over the last year. It's a great chance to ask any questions about our work here and learn more about the wildlife we are helping to give a home.

Families and dogs on leads welcome to this free event.

Dawn chorus walk - Broadwater Warren
Saturday 5th May

0500am to 0730am
Price: £8 (£6 for RSPB members and children)

Booking essential

Get up very early and be rewarded by listening to the cacophony of birdsong and learn to identify the different melodies and calls of birds as they warm up their vocal chords. We'll help you distinguish between a melodious blackbird, a rather intense wren, a newly-arrived warbler and perhaps the beautiful song of the woodlark.

Early Birds Wildlife Walk - Broadwater Warren
Tuesday 15th May

0700 to 1000
Price: £8 (£6 for RSPB members and children)

Booking essential

Bird song on the reserve is at its peak now so join Martin Allison, Freelance Ecologist and birding expert, for a leisurely stroll to see and hear our summer residents. He'll help you identify the songs you hear and the birds you see. Get to grips with those "little brown jobs" and listen out for the especially beautiful songs of the woodlark and tree pipit.

Sleepy Dormouse Hunt - Broadwater Warren
Sunday 19th May

0900 to 1200
Price: £20 (£15 for RSPB members) and £10 for children

Booking essential

Join our licensed staff and volunteers on a rare opportunity to see one of Britain's most elusive and adorable mammals. Dormice are a highly-protected species that very few people ever see. At this time of year they are coming out of hibernation and are often very sleepy so it's a great time to get a close-up view. Learn why our dormice population at Broadwater Warren is doing well as we explain our woodland management and our licence holders check the nestboxes that we use to monitor them.