We recently visited the Big Parks Project in Peacehaven, now known as Centenary Park. It’s a fantastic green space, perfect for a family outing, with an extensive children’s playground and skatepark. Walking across the park, the most noticeable bird was the skylark. More common in farmland, you normally hear them before you see them, with their incredible spiralling songs high in the sky. Today though, they were also busy chasing each other through the grassland. Presumably this is either mating behaviour, or birds fighting over nesting territories.
Skylarks have declined by 75% between 1972 and 1996 largely due to changes in farming that affect their food sources and nesting sites (source RSPB). Here in Peacehaven are rapidly losing their nesting sites as farmland has been replaced by building works. First there was the Peacehaven Wastewater Treatment Works, and now there are hundreds of new houses being built at the Lower Hoddern Farm site just north of the community orchard. To be fair to Southern Water, the new Wastewater treatment works is covered by one of the largest green roofs in Europe, and is an impressive sight. It was hoped that this roof would provide nesting sites for ground nesting birds, but this will only work if the grass is left long at the right times, and the area is left undisturbed by visitors.
Entertaining as it was, to watch the birds larking in the orchard, I do fear that more needs to be done, to preserve some grassland nesting areas, safe from the feet of the many walkers and their dogs enjoying the park. Only that way will we all be able enjoy the songs of the skylarks in the park for years to come.