National Species Action Plan
as well as the Sussex Arable Land, Chalk
Grassland and Floodplain Grassland
Habitat Action Plans will be used to implement and monitor action
for the skylark in Sussex.
of the most widespread birds of the UK, with over 1 million breeding
pairs (The State of the UK's birds, 2001), the resident population
is joined in winter by a significant proportion of the northern
European population - possibly up to 25 million individuals. Nonetheless,
recent national trends have shown the species to be undergoing a
marked decline. The UK breeding population of skylark on lowland
farmland declined by 52% between 1970 and 1999 (The State of the
UK's birds, 2001). The population has also declined substantially
in many other European countries.
The causes of decline are poorly understood because population trends
in habitats other than farmland are largely unknown. It is thought
that autumn-sown cereals may make an unsuitable nesting habitat
compared with spring-sown varieties, and that dense, tall, fertilised
grass is also unsuitable.
The skylark is protected under the EC Birds Directive, the Wildlife
& Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order
1985. It is a Red List species (high conservation concern) in Birds
of Conservation Concern: 2002-2007.
Current Status in Sussex
skylark is still commonplace in Sussex, particularly on the Downs
and the Levels in the far east of the county, although its distribution
is somewhat patchy. It is largely absent from urban and heavily
wooded areas, as well as much Wealden farmland where fields are
small and enclosed by hedges.
information on breeding densities in Sussex is lacking. Shrubb (1979)
quoted densities of up to:
17.5 pairs per km2 on the coastal plain
3.5 - 10 pairs per km2 on the Downs
6 pairs per km2 on the permanent grassland of the river valleys
8.5 pairs per km2 on Wealden grassland.
results of a number of censuses of breeding birds, in defined areas,
during the 1980s can be combined. Densities varied between 1.4 pairs
per km2 (Kingley Vale) and 58 pairs per km2 (Adur Levels). The census
gave an average of 5.8 pairs per km2, a figure which, if applied
to the 627 tetrads in which breeding was confirmed during the Atlas
Survey, indicated a county population of about 14,000 pairs, rising
to about 18,000 pairs if all records were considered. However, this
estimate may be too high, given the recent loss of temporary grassland,
which is the favoured habitat (SOS 1996).
Current Factors Causing Loss or Decline [top]
skylark is a rapidly declining species whose numbers on farmland
have fallen by over 50% in the last 25 years. The fate of the skylark
is intimately bound up with the management of lowland agriculture.
Intensive management of arable fields has reduced ephemeral weeds
and insect prey through the use of agrochemicals.
· An increased trend to autumn-sown cereals has reduced the
number of essential winter stubble fields and may provide unsuitable
habitat in comparison with spring-sown varieties.
· Conversion of lowland grassland to arable.
· Intensive management of grasslands.
· Early silage cutting, which destroys nests and exposes
skylarks to predators.