Back from the brink: the Dartford warbler

Guide

Join us in celebrating some good news, with the findings that the Dartford warbler has bounced back from the brink of extinction here in the UK. Our latest RSPB Ecology Report has revealed record numbers of Dartford warblers in Dorset and Suffolk in particular.

Making a comeback

UK Dartford warblers suffered a population crash in the 1960s, leaving just 10 pairs in Dorset. This year, we’ve recorded an outstanding 183 pairs across RSPB Arne and RSPB Minsmere nature reserves, marking an impressive comeback.  

The lowland heathland dwelling Dartford warbler relies on the habitat’s dense gorse, and had suffered along with many other lowland heathland birds due to habitat loss in the UK. Heathland is one of the UK’s most threatened homes for nature, with 80% lost since the 1800s due to land-use change. 

Dartford warblers are also particularly sensitive to cold weather. The exceptionally harsh winter of 1962/63, when temperatures dropped to -22°C, was devastating for the Dartford warbler, resulting in a population crash. Extinction in the UK was a very real risk.  

But, thanks to concerted conservation efforts to create and restore heathland, and a series of milder winters, the bird has fared well.  

Mel Kemp, the warden at RSPB Minsmere, oversaw the heathland restoration there, including across 17 hectares of ex-coniferous plantation. He is delighted with the outcome: “We have seen a steady increase in the number of Dartford warblers, alongside other species relying on heathland habitats such as nightjar. All the hard work of restoring this habitat has really paid off.” 

“Increased responsibility for the Dartford warbler population means we need to continue to restore, manage and protect the heathland we have left here in the UK to best ensure the future of not just this species, but many others too.” Mel continues, “Our conservation and monitoring work has never been more important in the face of the Nature and Climate Emergency.” 

Keen to spot a Dartford warbler? Visit us at one of these nature reserves: 

RSPB Arne, Dorset

RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk (which celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year)

RSPB Aylesbeare Common, Devon

RSPB Broadwater Warren, Kent

RSPB Farnham Heath, Surrey (which celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year)

RSPB Hazeley Heath, Hampshire (which celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year)