Spotted Flycatchers in New Woodlands

May 2018. I have just been walking in Bullen’s Wood, a small farm woodland planted in 1989, and was pleased to hear and see a spotted flycatcher. Looking around I could see that this was ideal habitat for flycatchers. The 30 year old trees were generally straight and tall but the woodland has been regularly thinned for the past 10 years and enough light has reached the floor to give good ground vegetation.

Typical of new woods on ex arable sites the ground cover is dominated by nettles, hogweed, cleavers, cow parsley and grasses. Not a classic woodland flora but actually very good for the weaker flying insects such as gnats and mosquitoes which like the sheltered, humid woodland conditions. Although the food is available for flycatchers there are are very few nest sites among the straight smooth barked trees. It may be too late for this year but I will put up some open fronted boxes asap.

The BTO is running an English Farm Woodland Bird Survey this year looking at the birds in new farm woodlands planted in the 1990s. I fear that most of these woodlands will not have been managed and any shrubs will have been shaded out. The woods will be dark and bare inside with little in the way of ground vegetation. Bird life in such woods will be minimal and even if there are spotted flycatchers they will be difficult to see. It will be a shame if the conclusion of the BTO’s survey is that new small farm woods are not particularly good for birds when, with careful planning and management, they could be quite brilliant.