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Survey – WHBBS

Wealden Heaths Breeding Bird Survey (West Sussex)


Last updated in January 2017


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
Woolbeding (This heath is likely to be available shortly)
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