Article by Martin Bennett, all images copyright Martin Bennett.
We are extremely fortunate to live in an area of the New Forest that has a healthy quota of Dartford Warblers.
Southern England is on the northern limits of its breeding range. They stay with us all year round,unfortunately a period of severe weather in the winter can have a devastating affect on their population. They are very reliant on a diet of spiders,and other small invertebrates, surviving a cold winter can be difficult to find enough food and in cold weather they can lose up to 30% of their body weight overnight.
The Dartford Warblers favourite habitat is very mature heather, interspersed with variable amounts of gorse.
Breeding starts in April, and it is not unusual for them to have three broods in one summer, the nest is built approximately 30cm off the ground. They are a Schedule One listed bird so any form of disturbance is an offence.
Ibsley Common and the surrounding area has a good population of Dartford Warblers, in recent years the New Forest Winter Bird Survey (NFWBS) carried out by the Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) has shown Ibsley Common as having recorded some of the highest counts in the New Forest, something to be proud of, and to cherish.
A main concern, is the indiscriminate burning of heather with good numbers of Dartford Warblers in our area of heathland, it is imperative that enough mature stands of heather should be maintained at any given time, as each pair of birds needs to retain its own territory.
Burning of heather has to be done periodically to regenerate new growth, but survey work should be carried out at least a year prior to the work beginning, especially a herpetology study, particularly in this area as we are privileged to have the rare and protected Smooth Snake on Ibsley Common and Rockford Common.