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Woodlarks under threat in Norfolk and Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 02:42 06 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:38 06 July 2010

Woodlarks under threat

Woodlarks under threat

Predators are threatening populations of woodlarks in Norfolk and Suffolk more than climate change, according to a groundbreaking study led by researchers from the University of East Anglia.

Predators are threatening populations of woodlarks in Norfolk and Suffolk more than climate change, according to a groundbreaking study led by researchers from the University of East Anglia.

Although the woodlark is one of only two species recently moved from the Red List of birds of conservation concern to the Amber List, because their total numbers have increased in the UK, the study shows that populations would have done even better if there were fewer predators.

Researchers from UEA and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) examined the influence of local weather conditions on reproductive success, timing of breeding and survival in a population of woodlarks in the Breckland area of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Lucy Wright, a former UEA PhD student but now a research ecologist for the British Trust for Ornithology, said: "For a ground-nesting songbird of conservation concern, any benefit of warmer earlier springs from global climate change has been negligible, and much less important in the long term population trend, than a large increase in the rate of nest predation.

"We found that between 1971 and 2004 nest predation doubled and breeding productivity halved. There are many more predators in the countryside now than there used to be and more of a mix we think - not just foxes, but possibly hedgehogs, stoats and kestrels, as well as scavengers such as crows."

Co-author Paul Dolman, a senior lecturer in ecology in the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA, said the effects in Norfolk might be more noticeable because of changes in land management and use over the years, but added that an increase in predators could be seen across much of the UK.

Dr Wright stressed that none of the work would have been possible without the dedication of Ron Hoblyn, a former forester with the Forestry Commission, who has collected data on woodlark in Breckland for 35 years.

The study is published online today in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Animal Ecology.

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