Low-down on Lesser Spots – a cause for concern

Ron Knight

The national decline of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is well documented. Since 1974, the UK population has fallen by at least 72% and in 2009 the species was added to the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Reasons for this dramatic drop are cited as a combination of fragmentation of woodland, a significant reduction in the abundance of food source (principally butterfly and moth caterpillars) plus competition with, and predation (of young), by a rapidly growing population of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

This decline is, of course, mirrored in Northamptonshire. Going back just over thirty years sees this species recorded from a peak of sixty-seven sites but fast-forward to 2016 and the number of sites has fallen dramatically to just nine. In this instance, only a very small proportion of the overall yearly totals are breeding sites.
It has even been suggested that the species is on the verge of extinction in the UK and that our endemic race, comminutus, should it be lost, would be the first extinction of an endemic avian subspecies in recent British history (see here).

Such is the national concern that some counties and organisations are now receiving records ‘in confidence’ and not publishing site details. This arguably rightly tight-lipped stance has not (yet) been adopted in Northants but it may only be a matter of time. The most popularly visited Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers over the years are those at Lings Wood, Northampton, where they have been present now for at least seven years.

With their presence already widely publicised on social media and elsewhere, it has only recently emerged that the Lings Wood birds have, this year, been subjected to considerable undue disturbance. If we are to retain these woodpeckers as a breeding species, at both local and national levels, then a responsible approach to their observation needs to be taken by visitors to the site. Put bluntly, it would be doing them a favour to keep visits to a minimum or avoid the location altogether. This is not meant to be in any way dictatorial, more a plea to reduce disturbance to the site. Discovery of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at new, or underwatched, locations is encouraged through the means of participation in national survey work here. What can be more rewarding than finding your own …?