Back in the 1960s, one would have to search England far and wide to find a Dartford Warbler bird. With only ten recorded pairs, the species was classed as being almost extinct. Cut to around sixty years later, and the RSPB has now recorded 183 pairs of Dartford Warblers in the UK. How has this re-birth occurred, and what caused their near-extinction in the first place? Here are all the important and fascinating details to know.
During the winter months of 1962 and 1963, the UK experienced freezing temperatures as low as -22.2C (-8F). Now referred to as the 'Big Freeze,' the UK landscape was temporarily transformed by frozen lakes and rivers. One impact that was less temporary was on the animal and plant species. The Dartford Warbler is a bird that is highly sensitive to cold temperatures and struggles to survive under these conditions. During this period, they were wiped out to the point of near-distinction.
The Warbler's recent increase in numbers is not due to purely natural causes alone. Alongside the warmer winters, remarkable man-made efforts have been made to restore the heathland to its previous density levels. The RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk coast has worked tirelessly to create the Warblers' ideal habitat - dense gorse heathland. As a result, the area has seen an increase in the number of Warblers spotted. While in 2019, just 23 birds were seen in the restoration area, this past year saw 37 Warblers. "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," exclaimed the RSPB Minsmere warden, Mel Kemp.
Despite all the positive outcomes, there is still work to be done. In terms of the Dartford Warbler's conservation status, it is still classed as amber, which means caution is still necessary. On a larger scale, the UK has lost eighty percent of its heathland to land-use changes since the nineteenth century. This crucial landscape, home to so many animal and plant species, needs to be protected and restored further to protect the best of British nature.