Bird Survey Highlights Spring & Summer 2021

The results of the spring and summer bird surveys carried out by an independent consultant on our campuses have been received and we wanted to share the highlights.

St Luke’s Campus

Over the five year period 2016-2021, there has been a steady increase in the population of birds recorded during the breeding season across the campus. 2021 saw the highest number of total birds ever recorded – 295 – which eclipses the last record of 286 in 2019.

Once again, the Wood Pigeon remains the number one species recorded across the campus, the Blackbird makes a welcome return at number two at the expense of the Starling who drops to number five, whilst the House Sparrow and Herring Gull remain at number three and four respectively.

No new species were recorded across the campus, so the total remains at 29 different species of birds recorded over the period 2013-2021.

Streatham Campus

The top four species recorded across the campus – Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Robin and Wren – remain the same as was found in the previous surveys in 2019. The Blue Tit makes a welcome return at number five, replacing the Jackdaw in this position.

The total number of birds recorded this year was 1,435 which represents a net fall of 137 birds from the last bird surveys in 2019; a decrease of 8.7%. However, this is still well above the all time low of 1,284 birds recorded in 2017, and very much returning to the number of birds recorded in 2016.

174 birds on the red and amber listed species were recorded this year, showing that the campus has a relatively stable and healthy population of red and amber listed birds.

Interesting Observation – Blackcap

This year the Blackcap was recorded in all survey areas across the campus, with a likely breeding population of 26 which is well above the yearly average for the period 2008 to 2021, which currently stands at 18.

The Blackcap is one of the more common Sylvia warblers, identified by its rather stocky body with dirty grey plumage above and olive grey below. The male of the species has a small black cap, whilst the female sports a very distinct reddish brown cap. A summer migrant, arriving in early spring, the Blackcap is widely distributed throughout Devon during the breeding season, and is easily identified by its rich warbling song. Choice of habitat for nesting, is woodlands, parks and gardens that have areas of dense undergrowth. The Blackcap builds a nest low down in a bush and lays 4-5 eggs, having two broods between April and July.

Blackcap

Interesting Observation – Stock Dove

This breeding season, Stock Doves were recorded in small numbers in all survey areas across the campus. An amber listed species, the Stock Dove is very similar in shape and size to a Feral Pigeon, but smaller than its close relative the Wood Pigeon (of which there are many to be found on campus). The Stock Dove has blue grey plumage with a very distinct iridescent green neck patch and a pink chest. It can be confused with the Wood Pigeon, but apart from being smaller, also lacks the prominent white neck patch and broad white wing bands of the Wood Pigeon.

The Stock Dove breeds in open woodland, farmland with hedges and scattered trees and larger parks with mature deciduous trees such as oak.  Unlike the Wood Pigeon that builds a platform of twigs for a nest on a branch of a tree, the Stock Dove prefers to use a hole in a tree or a farm building.

Stock Dove

 

Wood Habitats on Campus

We love to create wood habitats on campus as they are essential for wildlife and provide food and shelter for countless tiny invertebrates.

The habitat piles in these photos are made from the dead branches of the trees they surround, so any fungi or minibeasts are still near their habitat.

So if you see log piles on our grounds, we haven’t forgotten to clear away debris following tree works …………………… we are doing our bit for nature and the environment!

Dealing with Ash Dieback at the University

Ash Dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) is a fungal disease first recorded by the Forestry Commision in 2006 becoming prominent in the South East of England in 2012.

We have confirmations on Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) specimens within our University since 2018, as has been the case for other well monitored sites in Devon and Cornwall.

The infection is permanent with no control and, although mostly terminal, there is a high degree of variability with respect to the seriousness and speed of the symptoms. We are gifted with a high number of people exploring, enjoying and being amongst our grounds and any sign of symptom is considered with great caution so physical management of these trees today and in the future is a certainty.

The dilemma amongst the Grounds team is that we know how valuable Ash is to biodiversity as a habitat. It hosts Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major), Tawny Owls (Strix aluco), Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) and the team favourite the Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), all for nesting. The lichens and moss which grow freely are a food source for caterpillars.

We are able to balance these interests and find opportunity where people are safe, and friends of other species can continue to share the space together.

The solution we have employed, which you can see in the photo below, is to carry out a veteranisation process on a tree. The major limbs are completely removed until the crown has gone and there is only a trunk left standing. The tree is then ringbarked which involves removing the living tissue from around the trunk. With the xylem and phloem severing the plants’ ability to transport water and nutrients, the tree will die and decay and this breaking down process will become host to insect species.

Importantly as the trunk is short and wide with developed buttress roots, there is no expectation that this tree will fall.

The top of the trunk can now be coronet pruned. This describes a technique that aims to replicate the natural fracturing effect seen after a limb failure, where insect species can easily reside within and rainfall can sit and gather amongst the dead wood.

Trunk segmentations have been cut out, hollowed and an entrance point made. These have been re-attached to the trunk around all four compass points as a future bird nesting habitat.

For anyone that would like to visit this work its location can be found here – http://ex.ac.uk/veteran-ash-specimen

For the future, the best course of action is regularly monitoring the species we care for. After all a minority will also be genetically tolerant and that stock of trees amongst our collection will be vital for the long-term future of the woodlands and specimens here when we begin to repopulate.

 

Diseased tree upcycled into wildlife habitat tree stump and bird boxes

Unfortunately a diseased Ash tree behind the IAIS Building on Streatham Campus has had to be removed, but our Arb Team were keen to use this as an opportunity to help wildlife and increase wildlife habitats on campus, in keeping with our biodiversity and sustainability work practices.

It is now a wildlife habitat high stump which will harbour and benefit insects and wildlife for years to come and the team have also carved bird boxes into the trunk.

Great job team!