Yesterday I attended a briefing for New Forest Snipe surveyors led by Keith Betton (Chairman and Country Recorder, Hampshire Ornithological Society) and Andy Page (Head Keeper and Head of Wildlife Management, Forestry England). The New Forest Snipe survey is the final part of the most recent forest-wide survey of ground-nesting waders, funded by the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship scheme, with Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank covered last year.
Territorial Snipe (photo by Marcus)
These surveys are vital, as right now our ground-nesting waders are in big trouble. Ongoing work led by Wild New Forest and Forestry England since 2016 has revealed that breeding Curlew numbers in the New Forest have declined by as much as two-thirds in the last two decades, with just 40 pairs left. Lapwing numbers are at their lowest ebb in recent history, due to the ‘Beast from the East’ a couple of years ago and recent dry springs (which make it easier for predators and people to access sensitive wetland nest sites). In addition, breeding Redshanks on the Open Forest are now restricted to a small area in the southeast, with no more than 5-10 pairs.
The current status of Snipe is less clear. Population estimates in recent decades have mostly been in the range of 100-200 pairs, but this is not an easy species to survey. The last HLS survey in 2014 generated about 100 pairs. During recent Curlew survey work we’ve opportunistically recorded around 80 Snipe territories, so would expect the total population to still number 100 pairs or more. But the true figure could be much higher.
The field meeting yesterday was therefore to discuss the most effective survey techniques and show surveyors the preferred habitat – we also got to see a couple of Snipe! I’ve volunteered to cover some of the suitable habitat between Lyndhurst and Beaulieu, as I’ll be surveying this area intensively as part of our Curlew monitoring programme - it will be interesting to see how many Snipe I find when I’m really looking for them!
Drumming Snipe (photo by Marcus)
Other bird sightings before and during the meeting yesterday included singing Dartford Warbler, Skylark and Meadow Pipit, a couple of Ravens having a territorial tussle, and several displaying Buzzards. And then it started raining again!
Anyone interested in participating in the NF Snipe survey this year should contact Keith asap via the HOS website: