Winter’s little refugee

Shore Lark (male), White Cliffs near Dover, 6 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Shore Lark (male), White Cliffs near Dover, 6 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

This week we report the sighting of a rare bird near Dover. The Kent coastline is not normally within our area of inclusion, but the section of The White Cliffs where the bird was observed is within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which we campaign to protect, and the sighting is of such significance that we believe it should be noted, both for public record and for general interest.

The bird in question is the Shore Lark, a distinctive little bird, of a similar size to a sparrow, which visits Britain in very small numbers from Northern Europe and Scandinavia to pass Winter here. In its northern home the bird lives in large flocks, but, since the entire Winter population of Shore Larks in Britain is thought to be about 75 up to perhaps 300 birds, a large flock of Shore Larks would be an incredibly rare sight indeed.

It is extremely rare for the Shore Lark to attempt to breed in this country so it is considered to be a visiting bird only. On arrival they confine themselves to the east coast of England, with a particular focus on East Anglia, that being an obvious landing point from a southbound North Sea crossing. As their name suggests they stay close to the shore, or nearby open farmland, where they potter about, in constant motion, feeding from the ground. The Shore Lark we observed was resting on its own.

In Britain the Shore Lark is specifically listed for special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and extra penalties apply to anyone who harms them or disturbs a nest, if sighted.

The presence of this little Winter refugee in our AONB gives us cause to remember that the countryside is not ours alone in which to do as we please: so many diverse species rely on it for survival. Another reason too to remember why special areas of our countryside should be protected in perpetuity.

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