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Nightjar survey

Nightjar Survey

Nightjar survey

About nightjars

Nightjars are nocturnal birds that are best known by their churring call which contains up to 40 notes per second.  Being nocturnal, during the daytime they rest on, or close to, the ground relying on their cryptic coloured plumage to provide camouflage. 

They also nest on the ground in edge habitats within heathland or recently cleared woodland plantations.  Like other ground nesting birds their breeding success can be affected by human disturbance and predation. Recent research suggests their egg-laying cycle is linked to the phases of the moon to maximise insect availability.

National declines in the species since the mid 20th century are thought to be linked in the UK to the loss and fragmentation of their heathland habitat.  Populations have improved but recovery is threatened by factors such as disturbance, fragmentation and impacts from new development.

Nightjars and the New Forest

The New Forest is recognised as a particularly important stronghold for nightjars. Because of its importance much of the area has been protected through nature conservation designations. These designations highlight the need for decisions likely to impact on nightjar populations to be subject to close scrutiny. Recently mitigation schemes have been established in and around the New Forest to manage impacts through built development. Similar schemes have been in place around heathlands in Dorset and the Thames Basin.

Whilst the New Forest has been important in sustaining nightjar populations to date there is some concern that a combination of several factors could be limiting the population and range of the species locally.

The New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme

The New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme provides support via Natural England for management of the Crownland.  The New Forest Verderers are the main agreement holder and work in partnership with the Forestry Commission and New Forest National Park Authority to deliver the scheme. 

One of several outcomes required of the scheme is the delivery of surveys to aid understanding of key bird species and other important wildlife.  Regular national surveys for nightjar occur on an approximate 10 year cycle and the local survey was planned to complement these by providing additional data at an interim point.

The survey

Following a tender process the RPS were appointed as contractors to deliver a survey of the New Forest HLS Scheme area according to the national methodology. Additional areas outside the HLS area thought to be important for nightjar such as forestry inclosures were also surveyed via alternative funding.  Areas of suitable habitat were surveyed at least twice during the breeding period by a team of expert surveyors. Whilst the unsettled spring weather slightly delayed the return of nightjar to the UK in 2013 it was not considered to affect the overall survey.

The use of technology such as hand held computers helped to make data collection efficient and aided quick analysis of results using accepted methodologies.

A total of 544 nightjar territories were recorded in the surveyed areas.  Comparisons with previous surveys indicate the population has remained relatively stable since the surveys in 2004/5 once account has been taken in previous survey completeness and other variables.

Now a baseline has been established it is anticipated further research and comparison can be made with future surveys and other datasets which will inform our knowledge of nightjar behaviour and the local population.