Langley Vale Wood – 2020 Review Bird Monitoring
Written by Lead Volunteer, Alan Matthews
- Despite Covid-19 restrictions, volunteers were able to carry out informal surveying throughout the year, with increased sighting records being added to BirdTrack.
- Additional experienced birdwatchers came forward to assist with monitoring and recording.
- The number of species recorded in 2020 was 72 (up from 59 in 2019) with 10 new species sighted on site or flying over LVW.
- The total number of species recorded by WT volunteers at LVW is now 81.
- An increase in raptor sightings, being top of the food chain predators, suggests a continuing increase in biodiversity as the site changes. Red kites, sparrowhawks, buzzards and kestrels were frequently seen.
- Raptor nest boxes, funded by a donation from the RSPB Epsom members, were installed.
- Barn Owls bred and raised two chicks in the new Barn Owl box.
- At least one pair of kestrels is believed to have bred on site this year with sightings throughout the year plus fledglings seen in the summer. The 2014 Davis study concluded that their limited sightings meant there were none breeding on site.
- Formal skylark surveys were not possible this year due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, general observations confirm that skylark numbers remain good, with breeding pairs observed at many locations across the site including some observed using open spaces where they have not previously been seen.
- Lapwings returned again to 40 Acres to breed. 3 pairs bred successfully, each with 4 chicks. The chicks from 2 of the nests, 8 in total, were successfully ringed1.
- The number of Red and Amber listed birds identified increased from 24 in 2019 to 28 in 2020.
- Meadow pipits, with only one sighting in 2019, appear to have resided on the site this winter with a flock of 20 reported in November in the newly planted Jutland Wood.
- Through trapping and ringing it was possible to confirm that Stonechats were breeding locally, and probably at LVW. 11 birds were ringed1 and at least 3 have remained over-winter.
- The bird boxes installed in Downs View Wood. All 11 boxes were occupied with 9 going on to have fledgling chicks – 65 blue tits and 7 great tits(1).
Undoubtedly the major challenge for 2020 was monitoring whilst complying with the various Covid restrictions in place for most of the year. On one hand this ruled out most of the skylark breeding surveys but fortunately ‘permitted exercise‘ was often utilised by various members of the group to undertake ad hoc reporting. Together with a welcomed increase in numbers joining the group, meant that reports this year were almost three times the level of 2019. We were also fortunate to have Karl Tarratt, a licenced bird ringer, to extend the range of data captured.
This was the second year that sightings have been entered onto BirdTrack (BT) and while there is some interesting comparative data over the 2 years it is only possible to make some observations at this stage. Although the 2014 Davis Report is helpful in many ways, cannot be used directly alongside BT.
The increased number of eyes and ears on the ground may have also contributed to both an increase in the all-time number of species identified at LVW up by 10 (shown below) to 81, with the full list shown in Appendix B:
Similarly, increased participants reporting may have pushed the annual total of species identified up from 59 in 2019 to 72 in 2020. However, other factors which may have contributed include, more expertise developed, knowledge of the site as to where to find species, extra equipment such as thermal cameras and of course the fact that the habitat at LVW is becoming more welcoming to a diverse range of species. The 72 species are shown at Appendix C.
While most of the 10 new species are unlikely to represent any significant change in terms of those likely to be either breeding or seen more frequently in the future, their presence and the increased number of species reported reflects positively on the potential for the habitat at LVW. An important exception to this list was the barn owl. A barn owl box was erected on the site in January following a sighting and, unusually within the first year, two owlets successfully fledged (both ringed). The fact that there was sufficient food within proximity of the box is positive news in itself.
Importantly, the number of Red and Amber listed birds at risk identified increased from 24 in 2019 to 28 in 2020.
The number of species identified per month jumped quite dramatically with the average up from 22 to 35.3. (Monthly breakdown shown at Appendix D). While this would not seem to be particularly important it perhaps has enabled species such as mistle thrush, goldcrest, and marsh tit to be seen frequently enough to believe that some may be breeding more than or in addition to the estimates of the 2014 report.
As mentioned earlier, the skylark survey did not take place enabling data comparison. However, the sector surrounding Ebbisham Lane was informally monitored and breeding numbers appeared to be consistent with 2019. Furthermore, the number of reports of skylarks has doubled in 2020. While much of this can be accounted for by the increased number of people submitting reports, it tends to suggest there is a significant population throughout the year with sightings once again in newly planted areas and fringe areas of fields as well as the main nesting area in the fields.
Fortunately, lapwing breeding was monitored in much the same way as in 2019 with identical numbers (4 nests with 4 fledglings each) again with 12 fledgings ringed.
With only 2 complete datasets for 2019 and 2020 plus the 2014 Davis report it is not possible to discern any definitive evidence to support changes in the distribution of most species. However, a few trends are discernible:
- Barn owl breeding (described earlier)
- Red kites seen quite frequently as the species increases its national range.
- Meadow pipits, with only one sighting in 2019, appear to have resided on the site this winter with a flock of 20 reported in November in Jutland.
- Through trapping and ringing it was possible to confirm that Stonechats were breeding locally, and probably at LVW. 11 birds were ringed and 3 have remained over-winter. Moreover, although the stonechats tended to concentrate in the vicinity of the container in the centre of the site initially, they have been seen at opposite sides of the site taking advantage of the areas left to nature, feeding and perching on seed heads.
- At least one kestrel likely to be breeding on site once again with reports throughout the year plus a fledging in Summer. The 2014 Davis study concluded that the limited sightings meant there were none breeding on site.
Species showing evidence of decline.
- Stock doves, described in 2014 as abundant, were reported in flocks through the 2019/20 winter months. However, during the current winter they have been seen less frequently with much reduced numbers.
- A similar pattern has been seen with linnets. While it may be chance that the larger flocks have been missed, there maybe other factors such as a change in the winter habitat that is less conducive to these species.
- Still no yellowhammers and only a solitary report of a lesser whitethroat.
It would seem that, give or take a little, the 2020 cumulative reports do not vary significantly from the 2019 dataset but there are some signs of a few changes from the 2014 baseline survey.
For 2021 our priorities will be to continue with the skylark survey and lapwing monitoring as well as concentrate on the activities of some of the more elusive species thought to be on site such as the marsh tit and meadow pipit. Subject to approval, and covid restrictions, we hope to utilise a set monitoring route which will be walked twice a month to build up a picture of species and numbers which can be compared annually and add to the understanding of changes in relation to the habitat supported by data.
 In 2014 the Woodland Trust commission a 10 week breeding and sighting survey by consultant ecologist Tony Davis. Survey available on request.
Appendix B. All Time (2014 onwards) Sightings list LVW
Birds of Conservation Concern (BOCC) Amber and Red Listed statuses are derived from Eaton et al., 2009- update from BTO 2015 current list
* UK BAP priority species were those that were identified as being the most threatened and requiring conservation action under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP)
** Not shown in BT- Recorded in Ebird
Appendix C. Species reported at LVW 2020 (key as above)
Please email SEVolunteering@woodlandtrust.org.uk if you would like to receive the above document in PDF format.