Guest blog: New Forest Lesser-spotted Woodpecker survey

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By Rob Clements, 21 May 2016

At a national level, the Lesser-spotted Woodpecker (LSW) population has declined so precipitously since the 1980s that it is now monitored by the UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP). The New Forest has been identified as a major stronghold for the species. In contrast to Hawfinch and Firecrest, where much survey effort has taken place in recent years and likely population levels can be accurately assessed, the situation with LSW remains unclear. The data provided by Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) to the RBBP is largely based on records obtained during survey work for other species and casual records from visiting birders. The current assumption is that there around 50 pairs of LSW within the New Forest. Interest in LSW is growing, and with more dedicated survey work in future we hope to gain a better understanding of the species in the New Forest.


Male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, photographed at the nest at Rowbarrow NF by Marcus Ward
Male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, photographed at the nest at Rowbarrow NF by Marcus Ward



In undertaking survey work on LSW since 2014, our aim has been to provide answers to the following questions:

What is the current distribution within the New Forest?

What density of territorial pairs occurs in suitable habitat?

Is the population stable or declining?

What is the current population level?


In 2014 and 2015, survey-effort was concentrated on small study areas in differing broadleaved woodland habitats, aiming to establish the density of territorial pairs within the New Forest. In 2016, we have broadened the approach, trying to get more people involved in recording LSW across the New Forest. This has involved training volunteers unfamiliar with the species calls and drumming, and persuading them that LSW are not as hard to find as is sometimes assumed! This has resulted in many more records, including some from marginal areas where LSW were not recorded during the recent Atlas period.

Longer term, we need to find more LSW nests, especially during excavation in March and April, if we are to get answers to questions on breeding success and predation levels. Nest finding for LSW is hard work, often involving long periods staring upwards amongst the big trees, but gets easier as experience is gained. Ken Smith, woodpecker expert at the British Trust for Ornithology, has been most supportive and has the technology to inspect LSW nests at almost any height to allow breeding success to be determined.


Female Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, photographed at Mark Ash Wood NF by Marcus Ward
Female Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, photographed at Mark Ash Wood NF by Marcus Ward



Results so far:

LSW are still present in around 65 tetrads within the New Forest perambulation. There is some evidence of range loss at the edges of the New Forest.

LSW are present at 2-3 pairs per square km in most broadleaf habitat within the New Forest.

All the evidence is that the LSW population is stable, at least within the central New Forest.


With more than 70 territories recorded this year so far, the population within the New Forest is clearly substantially higher than fifty pairs. My assumption is that there are at least 150 territorial pairs, but we need to survey more areas, especially in the north, to be certain.

If you have any LSW records this year that you have not submitted to HOS, or if you are fortunate enough to find a successful nest in May or June, please contact us.

Further information on nesting LSW can be found at: