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Rare and elusive nightjars return to Snelsmore Common, thanks to walkers

Thursday 27th July 2017

Nightjar by Katie Fuller

The rare and elusive nightjar has returned to Snelsmore Common in West Berkshire, after an absence of two years, reports the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust.

These extremely well-camouflaged, nocturnal birds spend the day hiding from predators by keeping still, either perched on a branch or on its nest on the ground. But at dusk the air fills with the eerie ‘churring’ noise of the male’s song as they start to hunt for moths across the heath.

Because nightjars nest on the ground, they are prone to being disturbed by people walking too close, and by dogs running through the Common.

This spring and summer the Wildlife Trust had a small group of wardens working with visitors to Snelsmore Common to meet walkers and explain the importance of the area for wildlife, and how people can help the rare birds like the nightjars.

Stephen Plaisted-Kerr, one of the wardens, said: “People have been very interested in finding out about nightjars and other wildlife. Everybody who we have spoken to has been happy to stick to the paths and keep their dogs under control during this sensitive nesting period, so it’s thanks to them that we’ve seen the rewards with the return of the nightjars this year.”

After flying all the way from Africa to Britain for the summer, nightjars rely on heaths and woodland clearings in places such as West Berkshire’s Snelsmore Common and Greenham Common for their nesting and foraging sites.

BBOWT, the Wildlife Trust that looks after Snelsmore Common, the 96 hectare site north of Newbury on behalf of the owner West Berkshire Council since 2013, has been working hard to ensure the best conditions for the nightjar.

Alex Cruickshank, Senior Land Manager for BBOWT, said: “Nightjars are a special part of our heathland landscape. We were elated to hear from the volunteers who surveyed Snelsmore Common in July that they heard two male birds churring once again. The birds had been absent for at least two years, so this was thrilling news.”

Nightjars require special conditions for their nesting and night-time hunting for flying insects so the Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers have been cutting scrub on the heath, mowing heather and looking after the Exmoor ponies that graze the scrub and grasses.

Find out how BBOWT surveys for nightjars and listen to them churring.