Suffolk wildlife group in SOS bid to save town’s last larks
- Credit: Archant
Campaign launched in Ravenswood, Ipswich, to protect nesting skylarks
Wildlife enthusiasts have launched a “Save Our Skylarks” campaign in a “do-or-die” bid to avoid the species being lost as a breeding bird in Suffolk’s county town.
Suffering continuing catastrophic losses across the UK and now perilously close to localised extinction in Ipswich, the skylark population in the Ravenswood area of the town has slumped to an alarming low. Numbers of the birds nesting on grassland areas designated as green space in the huge Ravenswood housing development on the town’s former airfield site have declined as disturbance, especially by off-lead dogs, has increased, campaigners say.
Now the 185-strong Ravenswood Wildlife Group has started its “make-or-break” effort to prevent the last few skylarks being permanently forced away from what the naturalists believe is the only site left within Ipswich’s boundaries where the species breeds.
Group founder Astrid Fjellbrook said: “Last year a study conducted by local ornithologist Mick Wright for Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk Wildlife Trust revealed a shocking decline of 94% in just 20 years, directly correlating with the increase of housing in Ravenswood. To put that in context, Ravenswood skylarks are at an all-time low with just five breeding pairs being found in 2017. This year really is make or break for them.”
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Four previously studied grassland areas were no longer suitable for skylarks as they were now part of Ravenswood’s large -scale development of housing, leaving just one “compartment” suitable for breeding - located between Braziers Wood and a raised area known as The Tump.
“Nationally, the skylark is a red-listed species that has crashed badly,” said Ms Fjellbrook. “They are ground-nesting birds that are very susceptible to disturbance and their nests are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The most we have counted at any one time here this year has been just three and it really is do or die now.
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“We’ve had enough of confrontations with people over dogs off the lead in the grass area the skylarks need. That does not work and we don’t want to fight and argue with people. We are going for a different, more subtle approach now - we are going for education.”
Signs around the site and leaflets being distributed by group members ask people to keep out of the skylark zone until July 31, when the birds should have finished breeding. They request that walkers keep to a perimeter path, avoiding the more sensitive centre of the grassland, with dogs being kept on leads.
“There is an alternative site for dog-walking behind Ravenswood Primary School field – that’s enclosed and is perfect for dogs and there are also plenty of woods in the area so we’d encourage people to use those areas rather than where our skylarks will hopefully nest,” said Ms Fjellbrook.
The group had received “great positivity” from many Ravenswood residents. “We’ve grown so much and interest has really taken off in the past six months,” she said.
“We’re working closely with the borough council and BugLife’s Ipswich Urban Buzz officer David Dowding and we have done a lot of work to enhance the area for wildlife and for people, such as planting native wild flowers. If we lose skylarks we hope that will be the last species we do lose and we will keep working to try to get them back and we will keep trying to make the area as good as it possibly can be for nature.”
Group member Daniel Cable-Davey added: “It’s going to be a crucial year for skylarks here – the decline in their population has been catastrophic. I’ve lived here for 15 years and have seen the losses but if you speak to people who have lived in the area all their lives they can remember the airport and they say there were 10 times as many back in those days. It’s make or break for the skylarks now.”
The decline of the skylark as a UK breeding species is one of the steepest suffered by any British bird. It is one of the worst-hit of all species on British farmland.
Studies have shown that declines began in the mid-1970s, with some estimates putting the losses at as much as one-third, or 750,000 pairs, since 1986. Other research has shown that UK skylark populations halved during the 1990s, with losses of 75% between 1972 and 1996.
The main cause of the decline is believed to be a widespread switch from spring-sown cereals to autumn-sown, resulting in fewer chicks being raised each year. Autumn-sown cereals are taller and more dense than those that are spring-sown, and so support fewer skylark nests in the breeding season.
The absence of stubbles and increased use of insecticides and weed killers are also likely to reduce skylark food supplies.
More information about the work of the Ravenswood Wildlife Group can be found at www.ravenswoodwildlifegroup.co.uk