Wildlife experts are warning that plans to build on one of Sussex’s Nightingale “hotspots” will destroy irreplaceable habitat and leave many endangered or declining species of birds with nowhere to go.
Next week (March 31st) residents in Wineham, where Mayfield Market Towns wants to build 10,000 new homes, are launching a ‘Sight and Sound Birdwatch’ to catalogue the species living there – including Barn Owls, Nightingales, Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Swallows.
Helen Crabtree from the British Trust for Ornithology says the proposed new town site is an important spot for wildlife.
“The area in question has some fantastic habitat for wildlife and for birds in particular,” she says. “Not only are Nightingales relatively abundant in the hedges and copses, but there are breeding Skylarks, Yellowhammers, Linnets and sometimes Lapwings. These are all farmland birds that are suffering declines in Sussex.
“In addition, woodlarks breed in the farmland – woodlarks are usually thought of as heathland birds in Sussex, but in this particular area they have recently been observed breeding in arable farmland. With so little heathland remaining in Sussex, areas of farmland like this could form an essential resource for this Scedule 1 protected species. The river meadows in this area are also important wintering areas for Stonechats and Snipe, and important migration stops for Whinchats in the autumn. All this comes from my own personal observations in the area over the last few years.”
BBC Radio Sussex Live interview on Save the Nightingales.
BBC Radio Sussex Live interview in Twineham woods.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Adult learning Manager, Mike Russell agrees.
“It is a mosaic of habitats,” he says. “You’ve got the upper echelons of the Adur coming through here, so you’ve got water meadows, you’ve got running water, you’ve got small ponds, you’ve still got a network of hedges – the removal of hedgerows has been one of the major losses of habitats for some species – you’ve got small woodlands and you’ve got agricultural areas. So it’s a real mixture of habitats in a fairly confined area and that gives it a lot of diversity.”
We’ve lost species mainly due to the loss of farmland
“We’ve lost species mainly due to the loss of farmland,” he says. “Species like Tree Sparrows have declined by over 90%, Skylarks have gone down, Yellowhammers – these are all Red Data species, so nationally their population has declined by over 50% in 30 years. Much of that decline is in the south east.”
“Many of our summer migrants are the ones that have been declining most. We are talking about birds like Swallows and House Martins, Cuckoos, lots of different types of Warbler and the Nightingale. For many of these species, once a habitat is gone, it’s very hard for them to be recreated to the extent that it will give the birds and other species places to actually go to.”
“It is an excellent area for Nightingales because there is quite a lot of exactly what they want,” she says. “They seem to prefer Blackthorn scrub – in particular Blackthorn scrub near running water; and there are plenty of both around here. We are finding that with so much building going on in the South East, these areas that are still relatively untouched are becoming the most important sites for this particular species.”
And she warns that because Nightingales are very fussy about their habitat, it would be almost impossible to persuade them to move on to another location.
If a town is built in this area then the habitat will go
Lucy Sheridan who lives on the edge of the proposed new town site hears the Nightingales singing every year – in fact her home is actually named after the birds.
“We take it for granted that everyone’s heard them,” she says. “My mum is very jealous that we live so close to the Nightingales. We’ve woken our daughter up in the middle of the night just to hear them, because it is most special to hear them after dark – to hear one singing at three o’clock in the morning is incredible.”