Land management for woodlarks
16 November 2004
The woodlark is a rare breeding bird in Britain that is found on dry sandy soils on lowland heathland, farmland and in forest clearings.
Until the middle of the 20th century, they were quite widespread on suitable soils south of the Humber.
The abandonment of traditional management, including grazing, on heathland and marginal farmland caused the UK population to decline dramatically until, in 1986, there were as few as 250 pairs confined to heathland in southern England and a small area of farmland in Devon.
Since the 1980s, woodlarks have recovered dramatically, largely because of an expansion in the area of recent forest clearings, through harvesting and restocking, and a widespread expansion of heathland restoration initiatives. However, increases in farmland populations are, as yet, small.
What do woodlarks need?
Sparse, short grassy or heathy turf, together with bare ground, is essential as woodlarks forage for all of their food on the ground. Nests are located under grass tussocks, heather bushes or dead bracken and scattered trees are used as song posts.
Breeding starts very early; territories start to be established as early as January in the south and most pairs are incubating eggs from mid-March. They will have two and sometimes three broods so can still be breeding in July.
During the breeding season, woodlarks feed mainly on beetles, caterpillars and spiders foraged from the soil or from short turf.
During the winter, they change their diet to feed on seeds and often join flocks of finches, skylarks and buntings on stubbles and set-aside fields.