A mesh fence was erected on Wanstead Flats last month to protect the only breeding skylark population in inner London. Gill James of the Wren Wildlife Group reports on efforts to save these endangered songbirds
Many of you will be aware of the skylarks on Wanstead Flats and will have heard them singing as they soar into the sky, lifting everyone’s spirits with them.
Skylarks are famous for their song flights, which are delivered by the males from very early spring and all through the nesting season. They can hover for 10 minutes or more, all the time delivering a beautiful song, a song that has inspired poets and composers for centuries. It’s sometimes hard to work out where the song is coming from because the singer is so high – often 300 feet or more.
Wanstead Flats has the only breeding skylark population in inner London. Unfortunately, they have been unable to breed successfully for a number of years due to several factors, including some unintentional disturbance from humans and dogs. Other factors may be predation by crows, foxes and rats.
Skylarks nest on the ground in areas of long grass. They (and the less conspicuous meadow pipits) are particularly vulnerable to disturbance during the nesting season, which runs from early March to the end of August. Disturbance can cause birds to abandon their nests, and any young birds may flee, get lost and end up starving to death.
So, we are in danger of losing the last few of this critically endangered species. They have already disappeared from Leyton Flats.
For this reason, temporary fencing has been installed around the main nesting site this year by the City of London to try and protect any that remain and hopefully allow them to breed. While the fencing is newly in place, members of the Wren Wildlife Group have been around as much as possible to answer any questions the public may have. The fencing will stay up until the end of August.
Wanstead Flats is well known amongst birders for the fantastic range of species to be found in its varied habitats, especially in the migration seasons in spring and autumn, when many birds are glad of a rest on their long journey home.
Why not take a pair of binoculars to the Flats and see what you can spot? Maybe you’ll see – and hear – a skylark, singing its heart out as it soars into the sky.
For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit wrengroup.org.uk