Rare bird species in Epping Forest, including Skylarks, Nightjars, and Dartford Warblers, are gearing up to breed, prompting warnings for walkers to respect their vulnerable nesting grounds from disturbance.

Skylarks, known for nesting on the ground, particularly on Wanstead Flats, represent a significant population of ground-nesting birds closest to central London, as noted by a City of London committee overseeing the forest. To safeguard these species, walkers are urged to keep their dogs under control and heed designated roped-off zones.

Wanstead Flats, part of Epping Forest, holds the distinction of being a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), boasting vast open grasslands that provide crucial habitat for these avian inhabitants.

The Skylark, slightly larger than a sparrow but smaller than a starling, sports streaky brown plumage with a distinctive small crest that it raises when agitated. Notably, its aerial display flights are a sight to behold, though recent population declines have warranted its classification as a red list species.

Nightjars, nocturnal hunters known for their silent flight, navigate the dusk and dawn in search of prey. With pointed wings and elongated tails reminiscent of kestrels, these enigmatic birds possess a mystical allure, thanks to folklore surrounding their purported ability to steal goat milk.

The Dartford Warbler, once teetering on the brink of extinction with only a handful of pairs in the 1960s, has staged a remarkable recovery. Though initially dubbed the Furze Wren, it gained its present name after a taxonomical dispute involving John Latham, who inadvertently named the species after Dartford rather than its original discovery site in Bexley.

Chairman of the Epping Forest and Commons Committee, Ben Murphy, said of the temporary cordons: “Some people may think these [cordoning off] measures go too far – but the reality is that these birds play a critical role in protecting the forest and maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

“They are pest controllers, pollinators and seed dispersers.

“We want everyone to enjoy the abundance of nature found in ‘the green lungs of London’, which is why we are urging visitors to respect these birds by staying out of the clearly defined areas.”

Despite its resurgence, the Dartford Warbler remains a treasured rarity, often spotted perched atop stems or flitting between bushes during its distinctive bobbing flight.

The protection of these delicate habitats is paramount, as disturbance to nesting adults can leave chicks vulnerable to predation, while even accidental trampling can obliterate their fragile homes in a single misstep.

Mr Murphy added: “The protective measures we put in place last year resulted in at least four young larks fledging.

“There were 11 skylarks there at the end of last season and we have seen seven individuals so far, which is incredibly promising.”



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