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Diagnosing the cause of the decline of the lesser spotted woodpecker

Male lesser spotted woodpecker on tree trunk

Male lesser spotted woodpecker

Lesser spotted woodpeckers declined by 72% between 1974-1999 according to CBC monitoring and is therefore red listed. The species is now too rare to be adequately monitored by the BBS scheme, but the Repeat Woodland Bird Survey suggests declines since the mid 1980s of between 43% and 59%. 

Reasons for the decline are as yet unknown. This project aims to understand the ecology of the species and recommend conservation measures to reverse the decline. 

Project objectives

  • To determine habitat requirements of lesser spotted woodpecker.
  • To locate nests and establish nesting success.
  • To examine habitat, predation, parental care and food availability in relation to nesting success.

Key dates so far

  • Information on breeding success and foraging was recorded from 27 nests across study areas in South Yorkshire, Wyre forest, and Hampshire/Wiltshire.
  • All data have been analysed and written up as scientific journal articles.

Work planned or underway

A review of information gained so far will be held in 2014. This is aimed at identifying whether further research is needed to clarify causes of decline and whether we are able to confidently suggest a course of conservation action. 


Lesser spotted woodpeckers’ favoured habitat includes tall closed canopy woodland of predominantly oak with a low cover of shrubs.

Nest sites are in deadwood in the upper half of live trees. They forage on the outer branches in the tops of live trees. Oaks were preferred for nesting and foraging.

Nest survival was low, 52% fledging young, with successful nest producing an average of 2.8 young. 

Causes of nest failure were mainly starvation of young after adults disappeared, predation of nests by great spotted woodpeckers occurred less frequently.

Who to contact

Paul Bellamy
Senior Conservation Scientist


Natural England


Natural England through the Action for Birds in England partnership.