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You are in: South Yorkshire > Nature > Nature features > SY's Tree Sparrow hero

Dave Waddington inspects a Tree Sparrow nest box

Dave checks a Tree Sparrow's nest box

SY's Tree Sparrow hero

Dave Waddington is the RSPB Old Moor's warden who has worked on the site for 25 years. Find out how he's saved Dearne Valley's Tree Sparrow population from local extinction...

June 2007

The RSPB Old Moor reserve is one of the most popular visitor reserves in the region for birdwatchers. Dave began visiting the site near Barnsley as a youngster watching the local wildlife with his uncle. Since then the reserve has over trebled in size and now attracts a wider range of species.

"Annually it records around 175 species, the total species list is 245, but some of them are termed as a vagrant, a rarity. For example last week we had a sighting of the female Nightjar which was the first for the reserve."

tree sparrow and bird feeder

The hides at Old Moor provide great views

One of the permanent species on site is the Tree Sparrow. Only twenty years ago the bird was in danger of extinction, both nationally and locally. However in recent years Dave has helped the species survive the threat in extinction in the Dearne Valle, he tells us how he became involved:

"I first started birdwatching back in 1982. It were me uncle who really started me birdwatching.

"He'd been birdwatching since he were a lad. From then I started work as a joiner, working as a joiner and volunteering on this site."

"When the RSPB took over I got the role as assistant warden, primarily because there was nobody alive who knew the site better.

History of the Old Moor

The site of the Old Moor has been used for several purposes over the centuries, from it's long service as arable land, to housing coal stock piles, a flood plain, and in 1974 its nature reserve was born. The site has expanded from its original 70 acres to around 220.

Dave inspects what will be a new hide

A number of developments are taking shape

"I think it's safe to say there's been some sort of habitat or dwelling on this site from at least the beginning of the 15th Century.

"It were basically arable, traditionally farms. When the wars came coal production went up, and earlier in the industrial revolution. They stock piled coal in places like this which were farmland adjacent to the pits.

"Then it got left... the miner's strike came along, the mining industry wound down, pits were closed, subsidence occurred. There were more flood flashes on the adjacent farmland and flood land was created here.

"This land primarily was designated as a nature reserve 'cause it's part of the Don flood catchment. It's gone from a small 70 acre visitor reserve with probably about 20 visitors per week, to 220 acres here... currently we have around 80,000 visitors a year, but to cope with more visitors we actually need to improve the infrastructure.

Saving the Tree Sparrow

"When we got the regeneration money for the site we used some of it to repair the derelict buildings... but at the time the Tree Sparrows nested in the old building.

Dave rings a chick

Dave rings a Tree Sparrow chick

"Slowly we started putting nest boxes up, ringing them [identifying individual birds] and the population began to rise. From 1992 we've gone from four pairs, to 41 pairs last year [2006]. In the immediate Dearne Valley there's well over 100 pairs.

"They were one of the major declining species, they're still Red List [endangered] but I suspect they'll be coming off Red List shortly.

"In the Tree Sparrows' case... they had a 98% reduction in the population in a 25 year period between the 1960s to the 1980s. Although now it's not up to the population rate it once was, over recent years it's slowly increased, that's nationally."

The Tree Sparrow

The Tree Sparrow originates from its African and Asian cousins. "There were two populations of Tree Sparrow in this country. One used to make a really grassy bowl for a nest, and the others did exactly the same but in a hole, in a wall or in a tree, but here all we have is hole nesters.

"I've never come across a tree nesting Tree Sparrow. To be honest I think that nesting technique is almost extinct in this country. So they're all hole nesters, whether that be in nest boxes, holes in walls or holes in trees.

Dave replaces the ringed chick

Ringing is an important part of Ornithology

"With them being hole nesters it is very easy to attract them into nest boxes. A Tree Sparrow likes an open vista, so it can get in and out of it's nest very quickly, with no trees in its way, so they do lend well to nest in boxes."

Currently the Old Moor has around 120 nests the birds can choose from. As a permanent resident of the Moor the reserve provides food sources all year around, particularly as the insects they like to feed on are seasonal: "We've winter feed and we've also got a sacrificial crop that provides additional feeding. We also have a lot of untouched marshland... Tree Sparrows favour wetland habitat.

"What they've done in this country is referred back to their primary habitat because they've declined, which all species do. The average life span is around 18 months, but obviously there's a lot of mortality in the first year."

Would you like to become an RSPB volunteer? Call our BBC Radio Sheffield CSV Action Desk on 0114 267 5444.

last updated: 10/04/2008 at 11:23
created: 06/06/2007

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