Wyke Farm Estate extends over 322.2 Ha (805.5 acres) and comprises a diverse mixture of improved and more species-rich neutral grassland and mixed woodland, some of which is ancient in character. There are smaller quantities of arable land, orchard and wood pasture. There are also six ponds and a 1.1 Ha lake close to Wyke Farm. The main land uses categories are forestry (146 Ha), arable farmland (chiefly temporary grassland) (81 Ha), and permanent pasture (70 Ha) with native breed sheep grazing and cattle grazing.
A biodiversity baseline is currently being established at Wyke Farm. As part of this a Breeding Bird Survey was completed in 2022 focussing on those of highest conservation priority: Nationally Rare species; Red and Amber Listed Species of Conservation Concern; and selected locally uncommon Green Species of Conservation Concern.
Dedicated surveys were made on made on 13 days between 25th March and 16th June with approximately 1088km of trackline walked. Common Bird Census methods were used to record signs of territorial breeding birds. Effort related data was supplemented with casual sightings and other bird survey data collected by Rich and Rebecca Taylor, plus Rob and Alex Appleby.
In 2022, a total 75 out of 100 past/present/potential breeding species were searched for, with up to 61 species (>25 % of the total) found to be forming territories (though 4 or more of the 61 may not have actually attempted breeding). Three further species, Kestrel, Crossbill and Hobby formed territories/bred in 2020 and/or 2021.
The total of approximately 60 breeding species is a relatively high in a County context, based on the few comparisons available with other well-known similarly-sized birding hotspots/reserves. These being Cogden/West Bexington managed by DWT/NT, 3.5km2 54 species; Lytchett Bay part managed by the RSPB, 4.6 km2 43 species).
Of the species found in 2022, two were Nationally Rare (ca2000 breeding pairs or fewer in the UK), 11 were Red Listed (representing nearly a fifth (representing 18% of the regularly breeding UK species total) and 13 Amber Listed (15% of the UK total).
Nationally rare species recorded included Firecrest (4-7 of 2000), whilst Hobby (0-1 of 2050) has been suspected of breeding in recent years and this elusive species may possibly have been missed by the surveys. Information on a further rare species has been withheld. Red List species found forming territories were Cuckoo, Greenfinch, House Martin, House Sparrow, Linnet, Marsh Tit, Mistle Thrush, Nightingale (though not thought to have bred), Skylark (may not have bred), Spotted Flycatcher and Starling.
Amber listed species present during the breeding season were Mute Swan, Sparrowhawk, Common Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Mallard, Moorhen, Stock Dove, Bullfinch, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Woodpigeon, Wren, Tawny Owl and Kestrel.
A number of species with relatively small national populations were present including Little Grebe (4 of 3300-6650 pairs in the UK), Mute Swan (1 of 6500), Barn Owl (1 of 4000-14000), Nightingale (0-1 of 5550), Raven (1 of 9500), Water Rail (0-1 of 3900) and Tufted Duck (5 of 16-18,000).
The results highlight the value of creating the lake at Wyke Farm for a range of nationally uncommon and/or Amber listed birds such as Mute Swan, Little Grebe, Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting and for boosting overall breeding bird numbers by 20%.
An evaluation of the data found that the woodland supports a good variety of specialist bird species along with national rarities, some benefitting though the ongoing restructuring that has occurred in recent years from dense conifer plantation to a woodland more uneven aged and semi-natural in character. The woodland area is largely private, which helps reduce recreational disturbance and provide breeding habitat for sensitive species.
Vacant habitat exists though for a number of species, especially summer visitors, most likely due to external factors such as survival rates on wintering and migratory grounds (e.g. for Wood Warbler and Tree Pipit) or large-scale drivers such as climate change (Willow Warbler, Nightingale). For other resident species which have gone extinct locally, such as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Willow Tit, the causes of decline are unclear though contributory factors could include increased competition, habitat fragmentation, disease and climate change.
A small amount of suitable habitat exists for Nightjar in two areas, though none were seen. Disturbance by logging through the summer in clearfell areas may possibly have prevented a pair establishing, though small clearing sizes may be another explanation for absence.
Farmland areas supported low densities and fewer specialist species, compared with woodland. In particular Skylark, Greenfinch, Whitethroat and Linnet were found in much lower densities than good farmland habitat elsewhere, whilst Yellowhammer is extinct. The high numbers of hedgerow trees and the lack of Spring cereals and other forms of arable cultivation are key factors reducing habitat suitability for these species.
Several farmland species such as Grey Partridge, Willow Tit and Tree Sparrow, which have bred locally in recent decades including possibly also at Wyke Farm were confirmed as being extinct. Likely causes of local extinction include one or more of the following factors: intensification of farming practices (now being reversed at Wyke Farm), habitat fragmentation, climate change and predation.