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Survey – WHBBS

Wealden Heaths Breeding Bird Survey (West Sussex)


Last updated in December 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

Brief Update – December 2017

Unfortunately, Chapel Common was not surveyed and Lynchmere/Stanley only received three visits making overall comparison with 2016 difficult.

Results from the remaining eight heaths (Stedham and Iping are recorded as separate sites) for the five-priority species were as follows. Dartford Warbler continues to recover from the nil return of the severe winter of 2010 to 26, but in contrast Tree Pipit declined to 19 having apparently stabilised between 2010-16. After checking earlier years records it appears unlikely that Lynchmere/Stanley nor Chapel Commons would have changed this trend. However, sites that did buck the latter species downward trend were Black Down with 9 and Iping/Stedham with seven. An interesting comment relating to Tree Pipit monitoring was that all records were picked up on Iping/Stedham in the middle two weeks of May and that they were seldom found thereafter. Perhaps something to note for future years surveys? 42 Nightjars were recorded, this number is likely to have been affected by Chapel Common where six were found in 2016. 34 Wood Lark were recorded, and Stonechat numbers at 32 were very slightly up from 30 in 2016.

To sum up Nightjar, Wood Lark and Stonechat remain stable whilst Dartford Warbler continues to improve, and other than the two aforementioned sites Tree Pipit is trending down (this is in line with the national trend apart from in Scotland where it is surprisingly increasing).

Of the other species recorded Hobby is noted but difficulty in identifying breeding sites probably means it is under recorded. Similarly, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, both of whom receive very few records but are seen occasionally on sites in the breeding season. Woodcock, a notoriously difficult bird to monitor recorded an estimated 13 roding males compared to 15 last year. Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker numbers indicate stable populations and remain ubiquitous presences on the heaths and adjoining woodland. A total count of 12 Redstart territories, down from 16 in 2016 was disappointing and is likely to reflect the fact that the “hot Spot” for the species, Lynchmere and Stanley Commons, received insufficient visits and only three were found compared to 6 in 2016. Stock Dove shows an improving trend. Whitethroat is stable whilst Linnet and Yellow Hammer are down on 2016 numbers.
Only one Reed Bunting record was received, and it was another blank year for Skylark. One Crossbill was found this year, but we await another irruptive year to enjoy this northerly species breeding in numbers

Finally, a thank you to Joe Nobbs who has retired from surveying Woolbeding after 20 years, Alan Hines is our new surveyor. Andrew Timms has taken over Chapel Common.

Alan Perry
WHBBS Organiser

Note that the new sites of Graffham and Broad Halfpenny figures are not included in the WHBBS totals but are recorded separately.