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Nightjar success at Sherwood Forest Nature Reserve

Wednesday 12th August

Nightjar success at Sherwood Forest Nature Reserve

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has today hailed the success of efforts to restore heathland habitat in the heart of Sherwood Forest.

Over the past three years, the charity, which cares for around 900 hectares of nature reserves across Nottinghamshire, has been working to restore open heathland habitat at its Strawberry Hill Heath nature reserve which lies between Rainworth and Mansfield, in the heart of the Sherwood Forest landscape.

In 2013 around 300 trees were felled to help revert wooded areas back to the original heathland and as a result, areas of heather and grassland are now thriving. In 2014 two areas were fenced off to provide safe breeding areas for ground nesting birds such as the elusive nightjar, an increasingly rare species.

The work was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a wider project which also involved working with local children and young people to highlight the importance of the wildlife and history of Sherwood Forest.

Nightjars were known to be present in the area as a result of previous monitoring and survey work, but none had been officially recorded on the Strawberry Hill Heath site. Now, just over a year on from the creation of the nesting areas a pair has been recorded – raising hope that the nature reserve will become a new regular breeding site for the birds.

As well as monitoring the breeding areas of nightjars across Sherwood Forest, the project aims to create links with communities in Africa and help children understand the role that Sherwood Forest plays in the global network of habitats and the importance of the heathlands.

Speaking about the work, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Head of Communications said: “This was an ambitious project, and forms part of our long-term strategy to restore key wildlife habitats across the Sherwood area. We took some flak for cutting down trees in Sherwood Forest, but we wanted to create a new safe haven for the nightjar by restoring areas of more open heathland habitat. Sherwood Forest is home to a significant proportion of the UK’s breeding population of nightjars and we feel it is our job to do what we can to help them.”

Much of the work to keep the areas clear for the birds has been carried out by volunteers who have also created steps and improved paths to make the site more accessible to visitors.

Speaking on behalf of the Birklands Ringing Group, which recorded the nightjars, Andrew Lowe said: “When the Trust took over the management of the heath, it was in very poor condition, overgrown with silver birch and other self-set trees. The area was covered in litter and the remains of burnt out cars, but through the work undertaken by the Trust over many years it is now, in my opinion, the best example of lowland heath in the county.”

The heath is now a mosaic of different aged heather, open ground and scrub with mature oaks and other trees. Whilst the site still has issues with off-road motorbikes and unauthorised horse riding, the impact of these pressures is much reduced.

Mr Lowe continued: “The progress made in the past few years on a challenging site thanks to support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Wildlife Trust staff and dedicated volunteers is to be applauded.”

The nightjars were recorded by Birklands Ringing Group (BRG) and Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer Gary Cragg. The male nightjar was then trapped and found to be already ringed. On checking their records BRG found it to be a 3 year old bird previously trapped at Harlow Wood.

A separate Heritage Lottery Funded project is also looking in to the movements of nightjar. This project is managed by the Birklands Ringing Group and supported by the Forestry Commission and the University of Nottingham, with a large proportion of the project based on Forestry Commission land. This project is looking at how nightjar are moving and using the wider Sherwood landscape.

Adrienne Bennett, Ecology expert for the Forestry Commission in Nottinghamshire said “Some of the land we manage is adjacent to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Strawberry Hill Heath site and in our work we care for many areas of important nightjar habitat, so this feels like the perfect project to be supporting.”

Sherwood Forest’s nightjar population is the largest in the East Midlands, but in spite of investment in the development of its heathland habitats the population is in decline. It is hoped that the new research will provide a fresh insight into how the birds interact with the habitat, and aid the understanding of how management techniques are impacting on the birds.

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