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9th Dec, 2021

Bird survey in Warwick flawed say critics

CRITICISMS have been raised over a report on a project to increase the Skylark population on St Mary’s Lands.

From late February to early September Warwick District Council (WDC) installed temporary fencing around an area known as the Lammas Field where Skylarks and Meadow Pipits have historically laid their eggs in the long grass, a move which was supported by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.

A report of the six month trial describes an increase of nesting Skylarks, with 11 nesting sites being recorded, compared to eight previously, with over half of the nests located in the new protected area.

But Friends of St Mary’s Lands (FosML) has called the report ‘flawed’.

Friends spokeswoman Linda Bromley said: “Having watched with dismay as the skylark population within the fenced off site on St Mary’s Land dwindled to almost nothing mid-season, it was expected that Warwick District Council would hold up their hands and say ‘OK. It didn’t achieve its aim. Let’s try something better’.

“Therefore, the announcement in the local press, based on a report commissioned by WDC that hailed this as a huge success, was a total surprise. A report high on rhetoric, short on evidence and frankly, flawed.”

The group says the visits, in April and early June, did not cover the ‘vital last half’ of the breeding season which lasts until August.

It also makes accusations of biased sampling methods, unclear information in the diagrams and a lack of photo evidence.

They also claim the grass grew too long for the birds which, according to the RSPB, should be between 20cm and 50cm high.

Linda added the Friends noted no skylark activity in the area after the end of May and called the council’s findings questionable.

But the council maintains there has been a small but ‘encouraging’ increase.

A spokeswoman said: “The fact that Skylark numbers have declined hugely at Lammas Fields on St Mary’s Lands over the decades is a major concern – with 60 to 70 pairs known to be present in the 1960s. This fully justifies, to all user groups, the continuation of the fenced off enclosure during the breeding bird season.

“The council has not considered a trial based on a single year, to be ‘a huge success’ but is encouraged that we have seen a small increase in numbers of breeding Skylarks after many years of decline.

“Following the advice from an independent qualified ecologist we will seek to reinstate and the barriers over the next few years in order to establish whether the population decline can be reversed on a sustainable basis.

“We will also take action to enhance and improve the vegetation to ensure the habitat remains suitable for Skylarks throughout the breeding season.

“The council would like to thank local residents for the positive support they have given for the measures we have taken this year to protect our endangered birds.”

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