Heathland birds


With some of the largest areas of heath in Europe, the New Forest is particularly important for heathland birds such as Nightjar, Woodlark and Dartford Warbler. Much of the New Forest is a Special Protection Area (an international wildlife conservation designation) because of these three species.

Heathland is good for these and other birds because of its open nature with scattered bushes and few trees, its warm and dry habitat and the abundance of insects.  

Heathland has become economically less valuable in the past 100 years and has been built on, turned into pasture and conifer plantation or just left unmanaged to become scrub and eventually woodland. It is estimated that in the UK about 70% of heathland has been lost and as a consequence the birds that depend on this habitat have become increasingly rare.

The maintenance of the New Forest’s remaining heaths and the restoration of old heaths is vitally important for these species. Much of the National Park is now managed for its wildlife and a careful balance of the variety of habitats is maintained. The heathland is managed by the grazing animals which keep the heather in check and prevent trees and scrub invading. In places where trees get a toehold they may be pulled or cut down to maintain the heathland there. Controlled burning also plays an important role in maintaining heath, but this management technique is used sparingly.

Here we look at the rare heathland bird species and some of the commoner ones that you are likely to see. When you are out walking on the heathland between March and July, please keep on the main tracks to reduce disturbance to nesting birds.

Photo credit: Anthony Thorpe - Hobby


  1. Heathland birds (you are here)
  2. Nightjar
  3. Woodlark
  4. Dartford warbler
  5. Hobby
  6. Stonechat
  7. Meadow and tree pipit


Ground nesting birds

Guides and leaflets to rare birds of the forest

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