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Good and bad news on Exmoor's birds
The lapwing is now extinct on Exmoor
A survey of birds on Exmoor has produced good and bad news.

While some species have increased, others are in decline - and some are now extinct on the moor.
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A breeding bird survey was completed of moorland on Exmoor covering 153.7 km2 using an adaptation of the Brown and Shepherd (1993) methodology.

Survey areas were visited twice, the first visits took place from 16 April-31 May 2002, and the second visits from 1 June-12 July 2002.

Population estimates were obtained for 23 target species.

In some instances, where survey data was insufficient, supplementary records from surveyors and other birdwatchers were used to produce best estimates.

Increases were recorded of meadow pipit, redstart, stonechat, grasshopper warbler, linnet and reed bunting.

Exmoor populations of stonechat and whinchat, are of international importance and those of snipe, curlew, cuckoo, tree pipit, redstart, grasshopper warbler, linnet, and reed bunting are important within the south-west region.

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Some of Exmoor's once common birds have become extinct on the moor.

A survey, published by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on 1st May 2003, has revealed an alarming decline in a range of species.

The RSPB found the lapwing is now extinct on Exmoor, as is the red grouse. Red grouse were common on Exmoor up until World War II, and there are still well managed areas of heather moorland which would support these birds, so the reason for this decline is unclear.

The survey also reported steep declines in species like the whinchat and curlew.

Curlews are in decline
However, it also revealed some positive statistics. It found that stonechat numbers are increasing to the extent that Exmoor now has an internationally important population.

And the elusive grasshopper warbler has increased tenfold over the last decade.

There is also a new arrival on the moor - a healthy population of the rare Dartford warbler.

RSPB conservation officer Helen Booker commented: "We are particularly concerned about species such as whinchat, curlew and ring ouzel.

"We literally recorded only a few pairs of ring ouzel, a relative of the blackbird that is found only on moorland areas.

"The causes for such sharp decline are still unknown but we will be working with the National Park Authority to identify the key conservation issues in an attempt to stem further losses".

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler
Of the 23 bird species surveyed, eight have declined since the last survey 10 years ago, six have increased - and there has been the arrival of the Dartford warbler.

This bird is normally found on lowland heath areas like the East Devon commons or Dorset heaths, but has recently extended its range.

An attractive full colour leaflet on the breeding birds of Exmoor's moorland has been jointly produced by the RSPB and National Park Authority supported by the Exmoor Sustainable Development Fund and Defra.

It describes the birds that breed on the moorland and indicates their numbers and significance nationally.

Alison Cox, Exmoor National Park Authority Ecologist, said: "The National Park Authority, RSPB and English Nature are working together with many other people including landowners, commoners and recreational user groups, to conserve Exmoor's moorland birds.

"Ways in which we can all, as individuals, minimise our impact on moorland birds, during the breeding season (1 March to 15 July), are given in the leaflet, along with sources of further information".

The leaflet will be sent out to all farmers and landowners on Exmoor in Defra's Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme (ESA), and is available free from the RSPB and all Exmoor National Park Authority Visitor Centres or by calling 01398 323665.

Article first published: 1st May 2003

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