Elusive birds back at Snelsmore Common after a two year absence

PUBLISHED: 11:07 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:07 19 October 2017

The perils of ground floor living: nightjars simply lay their eggs on bare earth (Photo: NottsExMiner, flickr.com)

The perils of ground floor living: nightjars simply lay their eggs on bare earth (Photo: NottsExMiner, flickr.com)

Ian Weston

Or rather hiding on the heathland, as some elusive birds have returned to Snelsmore Common in West Berkshire

We always like to welcome visitors to stay awhile so are delighted to report that after an absence of two years the somewhat rare nightjar has reappeared at the nature reserve near Newbury overseen by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. They’re not the easiest to spot because as well as the excellent camouflage, as their name suggests these are nocturnal birds. Day time is spent hiding out, silent and hardly moving from a secluded branch or near their nests on the ground.

But as dusk arrives they can’t keep quiet any longer and the males can be heard making a rather eerie ‘churring’ noise as they begin hunting moths and other insects out and about at night time. The habit of nesting on grounds has seen wardens at the reserve asking people – and their dogs – to avoid going too close to the daytime spots where the nightjars have been lurking.

Stephen Plaisted-Kerr, one of the wardens, says: “People have been very interested in finding out about nightjars and other wildlife. Everybody who we have spoken to has been happy to stick to the paths and keep their dogs under control during this sensitive nesting period, so it’s thanks to them that we’ve seen the rewards with the return of the nightjars this year.”

After flying all the way from Africa to Britain for the summer, nightjars rely on heaths and woodland clearings in places such as Snelsmore Common and Greenham Common for their nesting and foraging sites.

BBOWT, the Wildlife Trust that has looked after Snelsmore Common, the 96 hectare site north of Newbury on behalf of the owner West Berkshire Council since 2013, has been working hard to ensure the best conditions for the nightjar.

Alex Cruickshank, Senior Land Manager for BBOWT, said: “Nightjars are a special part of our heathland landscape. We were elated to hear from the volunteers who surveyed Snelsmore Common in July that they heard two male birds churring once again. The birds had been absent for at least two years, so this was thrilling news.”

The nightjars won’t have realised it, but they’ve had additional help with their evening insect hunting, courtesy of Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers who have been cutting scrub on the heath, mowing heather and looking after the Exmoor ponies that graze the scrub and grasses.

Nightjars are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and classified here as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review and as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Visit Snelsmore Common

The country park’s mix of woodland, heathland and the odd boggy spot, known as mires, means it can provide a home to a huge variety of wildlife and plants – including some increasingly rare ones. As well as the nightjars it provides a favoured spot for other birds which like to feast on insects. It’s also a reptile haven with grass snakes, the common lizard and slow-worms, plus there’s a large pond where palmate newts breed.

There’s something to see throughout the year and although the bird nesting season is virtually over in August and September this is when the heath plants, including three types of heather are in full bloom. It’s a rich area for mosses and liverworts, as well as fungi.

The heathland supports a breeding population of the nationally rare nightjar, whilst the large number of insects also makes it a good hunting ground for kestrel and the green woodpecker. You’re bound to see something on a nature visit – it’s hard to miss the grazing New Forest and Exmoor ponies!

Snelsmore is four miles north-west of Newbury, has a car park and lavatories.



5 amazing creatures to spot in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire - Some are now becoming endangered species in their native habitats, others flourish in our counties, while one is a rare visitors

Latest from the Berkshire Life