RSPB Minsmere hails heathland restoration a success as rare wildlife population numbers boom

Ann Favell

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Dartford warbler, Arne RSPB reserve, Dorset

RSPB Minsmere hails heathland restoration a success as rare wildlife population numbers boom 
Heathland restoration project helps rare animals return to RSPB Minsmere nature reserve. 
Heathland, a habitat rarer than rainforests, is one of the UK’s most threatened homes for nature. 
Improving the heathland has allowed declining birds like stone curlew, nightjar and Dartford warbler to make Minsmere their home.  
The habitat management work started seven years ago and is now seeing fantastic results. 
An ongoing project to restore precious heathland at RSPB Minsmere nature reserve hit new heights during 2021, as large numbers of rare birds and other wildlife chose to make their homes in the heathland.  

The Heathland Restoration Project at RSPB Minsmere started back in 2014, with the aim of restoring heathland which had been lost to forestry and farming. Heathland is one of the most threatened homes for nature in the UK, considered even rarer than rainforests. They are open spaces, where plants such as heather, bracken, grasses, gorse, and some trees grow. Historically the area around Minsmere was largely heathland. The restoration at Minsmere is part of a landscape-scale effort to re-establish and re-connect areas of heath in the Suffolk Sandlings. 
However, heathland needs to be carefully managed to make sure that the low-growing plants are maintained. During the project, wardens gradually removed trees and bracken which had taken over areas of Minsmere’s heathland.  
Removal of these plants and trees has enabled rare heathland habitat to be restored and in turn, created more space for wildlife to find a home. 

Now, seven years into the project, the hard work is finally paying off as this year, the highest number of rare heathland birds since 2010 were recorded on the heathland, including:  
26 pairs of woodlark  
24 pairs of nightingale  
13 male nightjar  
In addition, an astonishing 40 male Dartford warblers were spotted on the heathland; the highest number ever recorded at RSPB Minsmere. 
Also spotted were higher numbers of studded-blue butterflies, antlions and adder –one of only three species of snake native to the UK. Minsmere’s population of red deer make great use of the heathlands, especially during their annual autumnal rut. 
Notably, in previous years, the critically endangered stone curlew has nested on the heathland and it is hoped this charismatic bird will return to the heathland in 2022. A summer visitor to the UK, 2020 was a record-breaking year for stone curlew numbers at RSPB Minsmere.  
This year, 11 pairs were spotted on the nature reserve’s open grasslands, which equates to 3% of the total UK population of stone curlew. Habitat management work continues on the heathland and elsewhere on the nature reserve to create and maintain habitat that will encourage more stone curlew to nest and raise their young. 
Nick Forster, RSPB Minsmere Senior Site Manager said, “We are delighted that the last seven years of habitat management work on Minsmere’s heathland has really paid off.  
“The vast range of heathland birds, insects and reptiles that have chosen to make Minsmere their home is fantastic, especially with record numbers of many of these animals being recorded, like the Dartford warbler and stone curlew.  
“We will continue to maintain the heathland for wildlife, so this amazing mix of species continues to flourish on site for many years to come. Do come along and visit our heathland when you are next in the area – you never know what species you might spot and you’re bound to love Minsmere!” 

To find out more about RSPB Minsmere, including details of the site and how to visit, go to:  

Last Updated: Monday 13 December 2021

Tagged with: Topic: Birds Topic: Reserves Topic: Wildlife Topic: Dartford warbler Topic: Nightjar Topic: Stone-curlew Topic: England Topic: Heathland Topic: Eastern England