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Survey – WHBBS

Wealden Heaths Breeding Bird Survey (West Sussex)


Last updated in October 2018


Results of this survey appeared in the 2015 Sussex Bird Report (published in 2016) entitled “Wealden Heaths Breeding Bird Survey (West Sussex) 1998-2015”. The paper includes heathland background information, site descriptions and notes on wintering birds.

An extended version of this paper including a preface, site maps, management issues and bird photographs, taken mainly by Sussex birders, is available by email from Alan Perry apply

The survey is ongoing.


Originally the Wealden Heaths and Thames Basin Breeding Bird Survey was set up in 1997 as
a collaboration between four county ornithological societies to monitor the important heathlands
of West Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire. These included some of the Wealden heaths,
designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) in 1994 (Phase I) and 1998 (Phase II), and the
Thames Basin heaths, designated as an SPA in 2005. There are no immediate plans
by the statutory authority to implement a Phase III to include the West Sussex group of Wealden
heaths. Nevertheless, the Wealden Heaths Breeding Bird Survey (West Sussex) is continuing with the objectives of providing data to assist in management decisions and to enable results to be measured thereafter, to provide a long run of data to help protect the sites from damaging developments either within or adjacent to them, and to ensure that results are retained in the Sussex Ornithological Society database.

Currently fourteen heaths (Iping & Stedham are recorded individually) are regularly monitored and include recently Graffham, Midhurst and Broad Halfpenny. West Heath was formerly monitored but is now largely a sand extraction site, however it is hoped that when the work ceases it will be returned to an actively managed heathland site.

Twenty-one bird species perceived to be specialists of the habitat or typical users were chosen as the subjects of the survey and of these Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, Woodlark Lullulu arborea, Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis and Stonechat Saxicola torquata were considered priority species.

Although these five species are our main quarry the recording form enables us to monitor the remaining species which include Yellow Hammer, Redstart, Linnet and other typical heathland birds (sadly Turtle Dove and Meadow Pipit have not been recorded for many years). The annual results are published in the Sussex Bird Report.

How can you help?

Although we have surveyors for the sites currently there often problems and we have to ask urgently for a new surveyor or a surveyor is needed to cover a heath due to illness etc. If you would like to potentially help then please contact Alan Perry (see below for contact details).

The format of the survey is as follows :

The Survey starts in mid- February, (to find the Woodlarks taking up their territories) and carries on until late June. We try to cover the individual sites entirely on four occasions, including one early visit as mentioned, and two visits (more if you have the inclination and the time), about two weeks apart during May when song activity is at its peak. There will be at least one evening visit (preferably two) in May and/or June to count Nightjar.

With the data collected we are able to estimate the total number of breeding pairs/territorial males of each species and assess the success or otherwise of these birds over a long time frame.

The heathlands we cover are as follows:

Weavers Down
Chapel Common
Lynchmere & Stanley Commons
Black Down
Iping Common
Stedham Common
Ambersham & Heyshott Commons
Lavington & Duncton Commons
Coates & Lords Piece
Recent additions: Graffham Common, Midhurst Common, Broad Halfpenny.
Currently not viable – West Heath.
Currently vacant Hesworth Common. A small village-owned heath.

For more information or if you wish to volunteer please contact the organiser Alan Perry on 01798 344417 or by email

Update – October 2018

A number of new surveyors joined the survey and unlike 2017 all of the heaths within the survey were monitored. As recent additions to the survey Graffham and Broad Halfpenny figures are not included in the graphs. To view the graphs click here.

After a very mixed weather period during Feb/March/April the summer thereafter can best described as “blistering” and although there were fires on Iping and Woolbeding neither proved catastrophic. Iping was before the breeding season and will have lost in particular potential Dartford Warbler breeding areas but was “greening” well by mid-summer whilst Woolbeding was a relatively small affair.

Comparisons directly from year to year are too short a time span to be meaningful and can be skewed badly as we saw last year when two surveys were not carried out. However now in our 21st year distinct trends can be deduced. Despite good results from Black Down and Iping Tree Pipit shows the most worrying trend despite there being plenty of suitable habitat. It may be that disturbance is an issue or their migration routes and wintering grounds are causing the problem. We will continue to monitor and hope for a reversal.

Of the other priority species Nightjar continues to do well, Woodlark are holding their own and Dartford Warbler and Stonechat are recovering from the set back of the winter of 2009/10 albeit in the former’s case slowly.

Stock Dove is the outstanding success of the non-priority species whilst Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Whitethroat, Linnet and Yellowhammer remain stable. Redstart however has taken a recent downward trajectory; the main reason is that the population on Lynchmere and Stanley Commons has suffered a particularly sharp fall.

Numbers for the other species on the survey are too small to warrant graphs but it should be noted that Skylark a species that has not been recorded on any of the heaths as breeding in recent years was found on Chapel Common (three in number).

Reports from surveyors noted on-going management but the principle concern being raised was the usual one of disturbance. Dog walking or rather free range dogs being the main complaint particularly where dog-sitters exercise a “pack”. One of the surveyors has spoken to dog walkers and to be fair many of them responded positively keeping dogs on the leads during the breeding season. Compared to many heaths in the UK our Wealden Heaths are very small, dislocated and fragile. Prudent management and good PR are now essential to keeping our heaths viable for wildlife.

Alan Perry
WHBBS Organiser