Greenham Common ground-nesting birds

Greenham and Crookham Commons are a special place for people, birds and other wildlife. It is the largest remaining area of lowland heath in western Berkshire and consequently is also one of the last remaining strongholds for birds nesting on or close to the ground, such as Dartford Warbler, Woodlark, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Linnet and Nightjar.

With its significant open areas of gravel and ponds the Common also has potential for Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Lapwing and others. The Common is fringed with areas of woodland and scrub where locally significant numbers of Nightingale can be heard, if not always seen! All of these species need everyone’s protection – please read on to find out how you can help.

The site is managed by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) on behalf of West Berkshire Council. BBOWT employs three seasonal wardens to help engage visitors in the protection of ground nesting birds (1st March – 31st July). With increasing numbers of visitors (and dogs) walking on the Common in areas away from the main paths (particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic), the risk of flushing birds from nests also increases, potentially allowing eggs and young to become chilled or be predated, for example, by corvids.

Historically, BBOWT has presented two messages: “keep to the main paths” and “keep out of the red zones”. Visitor research by the wardens indicates that the former message tends to be rather lost to the latter and, consequently, the majority of visitors assume that any areas not marked with red posts, i.e. the majority of the open heath and species-rich grassland areas, are unrestricted and available for people and dogs to walk in. Unfortunately, these are the main breeding areas for Dartford Warbler, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and other species.

In an effort to reduce disturbance and afford greater protection to ground nesting birds in these unmarked areas BBOWT has changed the emphasis of its message away from ‘red zones’ to ‘Keep to the main paths’; after all, if visitors are keeping to the main paths, then they are also not walking in the previously marked ‘red zones’.

This ‘keep to the main path’ message applies everywhere across the Common from March to July, except in the designated Green Zones, marked with small green posts. There are two Green Zone areas: one between the Control Tower and the Pyle Hill entrance in the west, the other at the eastern (Crookham) end of the Common. These are provided for those visitors who wish to explore or to exercise their dogs off the main paths.

How you can help. One of the most significant ways that you, as birders, can help protect ground nesting birds at Greenham is to keep to the main paths. This not only sets a good example but helps the wardens combat one of the most common excuses given by other visitors “well they’re in there – I was just following them!”.

We appreciate that this may make it more difficult to find passage migrants that may only be present for a very short while, but it does mean that you will be doing your bit to help protect breeding birds at this very special site.

Clare Sulston
BBOWT Seasonal Warden
Working together to protect wildlife