25 years on: Bird nesting scheme still going strong at Dartington

mike newby

Mike Newby is Estate Warden at The Dartington Hall Trust. He oversees Dartington’s numerous conservation programmes, often working closely with our volunteers to help nature flourish across the estate.

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2018 marks 25 years since the creation of a BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) nest box scheme in Dartington Hills.

The scheme – part of a nationwide conservation programme – was set up in 1993 by a local resident called Peter Morris, who sadly passed away a year afterwards. In memory of Peter, whom I never had the chance to meet, I wanted to pay tribute to him and the legacy he left behind: the project lives on to this day.

After Peter died, Nicky Cozens took over the bird survey, as she had helped Peter from the start. Nicky did this every year without fail until 2011. She then showed myself and the other conservation volunteers the ropes to allow us to undertake the survey.  Every year, this survey provides us with information about one of the largest blue tit nest box schemes in the country – comprising of 40 bird boxes in Dartington Hills, and five boxes in Berrymans Marsh.

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Blind and downy nuthatch chicks

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Great tit sitting on her nest with chicks

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Nuthatch in Dartington Hills nesting box

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Vicky and Andrew on bird survey

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Gallery: Bird nesting at Dartington

Great tit chicks

The survey starts in April and usually finishes towards the end of June, but on occasion the last birds to leave the nest can sometimes fledge as late as the first week in July. This depends on factors such as the weather at the start of spring, if they have a second brood, or if there is an abundance of food.

The current nest box monitor is Vicky Churchill, assisted by the Dartington conservation volunteers Hamish Johnson and Andy Davies. This year they discovered in one of the bird boxes a nest with two different eggs species within it. It became apparent later on in the survey that it was a blue tit nest and the female adult bird was brooding both varieties of eggs. Several weeks later when the eggs hatched, we noticed there was a mixed nest of blue tits and one great tit which was raised by the adult blue tit.

On the whole, we usually get blue and great tit nesting in the boxes but last year, we had a coal tit nest. She had a clutch of nine chicks and all of them fledged from the nest. Since 2014 we had a nuthatch nest three years on the trot in the woodland but sadly she was not in the usual box this year.

This spring we unfortunately suffered a spate of vandalism to some of the boxes – due to someone trying to steal several of the custom built boxes out of natural ash wood. A few were completely destroyed and others were partly damaged. Luckily there were no chicks in the vandalised boxes, so thankfully no birds were harmed. On a more positive note, so far we have had 144 fledged birds and another 36 ready to fledge.

We hope that we don’t see further vandalism, as the nest box scheme means we’re part of a UK-wide effort to collect important information on the breeding successes of Britain’s birds – discovering and following the progress of the individual bird nests. Once the BTO has gathered all the data from across the country for that year, it is then used to produce trends in breeding performance. This helps to identify species that may be declining because of problems at the nesting stage.

This year’s nest box survey is coming to an end and seems to have been a good year for great and blue tits. Out of 45 bird boxes we have erected in the woods we have had 30 boxes occupied. It has to be one of the best years I have seen in a long time.

Hopefully next year will be as successful as 2018!


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4 thoughts on “25 years on: Bird nesting scheme still going strong at Dartington

  1. I personally think that webcams are not a good idea. In due course there will be much more public awareness than is currently available in conventional media about the impact of these. I believe that to allow the birds to develop in privacy with the occasional visits by conservationists who understand about the needs and habits, is a more sensitive approach to enable wild creatures to maintain there fragile and vital role in the whole ecology of Gaia.

    Of course we all have a tendency to want to sit at our computers and watch the beauties of our world, but I am finding the true benefits of engaging directly with my patch of garden or the surrounding neighbourhood and the range of creatures and flora in it.

    With kindest regards.

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks very much for reading the blog. My reply to Lily below will be of interest to you concerning webcams. Hope you are able to do a spot of bird watching on the estate sometime!

  2. That’s fab about the birds in dartington. Would be fab to have a webcam on them for all to see, the children and adults would love to see this. I am saddened about the vandalism though. Maybe a bird watching day for all to enjoy would be a good idea? I for one would attend.

    1. Hi Lily, thanks for taking the time to read the blog. Webcams can be great in the right circumstances but we are unlikely to do this in this case as the site is nowhere near a power source, and the cameras are prone to vandalism. I know it’s sad imagine people doing that but as I mentioned in the blog, our bird boxes do get vandalised at present. Your bird watching day idea sounds great! We’ll be sure to give it some thought.

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