FOREWOOD

The Birds of

Cheriton Hill and Biggins Wood

Introduction

I visited this site was visited regularly from 1975 until construction of the Channel Tunnel Terminal prevented access from early 1988. Birds were systematically recorded from 1982 when the Kent Ornithological Society commenced a "Site Recording Scheme" – subsequently abandoned in the late 1980’s

This note describes the area, habitat and birds recorded there. Work done on behalf of Eurotunnel prior to the Terminal construction described the many rare and common plants which were found on the site in detail

The site comprised the scarp slope and crest of the North Downs above Cheriton, near Folkestone in Kent. It was broadly defined by Crete Road to the North, Castle Hill to the East, the M20 motorway to the South and, to the West, Danton Lane (no trace of which remains). No records were made on land owned by the Folkestone and Dover Water Services Company beneath Castle Hill.

There were two principle features of the site. One was the area of woodland referred to as Biggins Wood. It is shown as Dowle Leas Wood on old maps, which also show Biggins Wood as a separate block of woodland on the site of Harcourt School in Biggins Wood Road. The mature Oak trees in the school grounds are the only surviving remnants of these woods today

The second feature was the copious springs and associated streams crossing the site from North to South. The Easternmost of these was the largest, fed by a swallow hole which maintained a flow even in the drought of 1976. All remained open even in the hardest of weather

Habitat

The area was in agricultural use prior to 1988, mostly arable with sheep grazing on the hillside and fields. There was latterly heavy recreational use by hang gliders, motor cycle scrambling, model aeroplane flying and sightseeing. The whole area was subject to sporadic human disturbance and vandalism

Scarp Slope (The Hill) – Rough Tor grass with large areas of thistle and nettle, isolated thorn and gorse thickets, then used for sheep grazing

Scarp Foot – At the foot of the slope an ancient hedge survived more or less intact, and can still be traced today. It contains mature Ash and Oak, some Sycamore, Dogwood, Spindle tree, and Hawthorn, all of which show evidence of former hedge laying in places. This hedge was an important bird refuge and cover for local movements. It is now an integral part of the planting undertaken following the Terminal Construction, but its line is easily distinguishable along the public bridlepath

Lower Fields – Sheep grazing and arable farming characterised these fields, which were crossed from North to South by three hedgerows. These hedges were fragmented to a greater or lesser extent. The Eastern hedge in particular had dense lower cover with mature Ash trees in it and stood astride a stream fed from a constant and prodigious swallow-hole

Dowle Leas Wood (Biggins Wood) – Mixed age and species woodland, part of which was very damp, on former clay workings and wet springs, comprised mainly of Ash, with Oak, Sycamore and Alder. This woodland was described in detail in work done for Eurotunnel prior to the Terminal development. Seed and topsoil from the wood were used directly and indirectly (following propagation and arboriculture at Wye College) in creating new woodland to the North of the Terminal cut-off ditch. This was referred to at the time as "New Biggins Wood". Today it continues to develop remarkably well.

 

 

The superb photos in this page come from  a photographic record of the Channel Tunnel Construction commissioned by Eurotunnel and taken by Q A Photos, who very kindly allowed me to reproduce them here. You can visit their website at Q A Photos

 

Birds

Sparrowhawk – Birds of both sexes irregularly recorded in and around Biggins Wood, but no evidence of breeding observed

Kestrel – Two pairs bred regularly with mixed fortunes. Birds are known to have been shot

Merlin – Regularly present in Winter, usually singly. A pair on 20 January 1983 remained for at least 3 days

Hobby – Irregularly seen singles above the hillcrest, recorded in 1983, 85 and 86

Grey Partridge – Irregularly present on the Hill or the fields throughout the year. No evidence of breeding on the site, but young birds were recorded on farmland to the North of the hillcrest

Water Rail – A regular Winter visitor with up to four present annually from December to March in Biggins Wood and along the wet hedgerow at the Eastern end of the site

Lapwing – Present from mid-June through to Spring on the fields below the hill. Movements involving flocks of 500 or more were not uncommon, and a flock of over 1000 moved West prior to snowfall in January 1985. The first "winter visitors" to return each year

Snipe – Present from November until March annually in variable numbers. In hard weather up to 30 birds used to be present along the stream and at the swallow-hole

Woodcock – Present from November until March in ones and twos. After snowfall in February 1983 and January 1985 up to 12 birds were present along the stream and at the swallow-hole

Green Sandpiper – Irregularly present between November and March, observations involved 1 or 2 birds along the streams and on the pond beside the motorway at the Western end of the site

Black Headed Gull – Present all year in variable numbers and ages on the fields with counts up to 500 in early Spring

Common Gull – Occasionally present with, but not among, the Black Headed Gulls in Spring

Herring Gull – present all year in varying numbers and ages, not necessarily associated with breeding colonies in nearby urban areas

Stock Dove – Up to 4 pairs used to breed regularly in the woods above the waterworks, with one pair attempting to breed in Biggins Wood in 1983 and 1984

Woodpigeon– Bred in varying numbers throughout the year, except in Winter, both in Biggins Wood and along the hedgerows. Movements of substantial flocks were recorded regularly

Turtle Dove – One or two pairs used to breed irregularly in Biggins Wood. Sporadic singles also recorded uncommonly

Short Eared Owl – From January 1988 a single bird was present, being recorded regularly until March, on the Western part of the site. Cessation of arable farming prior to Terminal construction resulted in uncontrolled germination of Oilseed Rape from the previous year’s crop. This, and a mild Winter led to a substantial increase in small rodent numbers, including Field Voles which this bird was frequently seen to take

Little Owl – One pair used to breed annually in the old hedge under the Hill

Tawny Owl – One pair bred annually in woodland above the waterworks, using the site for hunting and feeding. Young birds regularly used to disperse into Biggins Wood each Summer

Green Woodpecker – One pair used to breed annually in Biggins Wood, with up to 2 further pairs above the waterworks. Commonly recorded feeding on the scarp slope, and frequently observed throughout the site

Great Spotted Woodpecker – One or two pairs bred above the waterworks, with young birds dispersing into the Wood each Summer. No breeding records in Biggins Wood

Skylark – No breeding records on the site. Bred regularly on arable land North of the Hill and recorded frequently on the scarp. Regular Autumn movement recorded, involving tens of birds along the scarp slope

Meadow Pipit – Bred along the scarp, with up to 12 pairs recorded. Largely absent from November to March.

Water Pipit - In hard weather ones and twos would appear by streams and springs, and disappear again as soon as things warmed up

Grey Wagtail – Recorded singly in Winter in ditches and culverts beside the motorway, occasionally on the streams, but never common or regular

Pied Wagtail – Uncommon and irregularly recorded on the fields below the Hill. No breeding records

Wren – Used to breed abundantly and widely across the site. Some evidence of hard weather influx noted

Dunnock – Less abundant than Wren. Some evidence of Winter influx each year. Always the first small passerine to establish territory each Spring

Robin – Uncommon breeding resident – just 2 or 3 pairs recorded in Biggins Wood or bigger hedgerows each year. Clear indications of winter influx involving a few tens of birds

Nightingale – A singing male recorded during a county survey on 17 May 1985, in dense cover at the extreme East end of Biggins Wood close to the motorway. Subsequently recorded over a 2 week period but no evidence of breeding observed

Black Redstart – Irregular but not uncommon along the hillcrest each Autumn. Males observed behaving territorially beside the motorway underbridge in Spring 1982 and 1983 but no evidence of breeding observed

Stonechat– One pair bred and fledged young in 1982 close to the motorway underbridge. Otherwise only sporadic records from Gorse on the Hill

Blackbird – Abundant breeding resident throughout the site. Winter populations showed marked response to hard weather, and there was clear evidence of Spring and Autumn movement through the site, often involving tens of birds

Fieldfare – Regular Winter visitor, present in November and December, but then largely absent until March each year. Used to feed and roost in the hedge at the foot of the Hill, and also in the fields when sheep were being grazed there

Song Thrush – Uncommon breeding resident, with some evidence of Winter movement. Just 2 or 3 pairs bred across the site, often near the hillcrest, where exposed flints beside footpaths were used as anvils

Redwing– Wintered in substantial flocks from December to February, with numbers fluctuating almost daily, and absenting completely from time to time. Roosting behaviour commonly noted in Biggins Wood and the hedge under the Hill

Mistle Thrush – 3 to 6 pairs used to breed across the site, feeding on sheep pasture and rabbit turf on the hill. Noted to be absent for periods in Autumn and Spring each year

Sedge Warbler – There were up to 8 pairs in sedges around the old clay pit at the North end of Caesars Way. It was filled in for motorway construction in the 1970’s. A remnant of this habitat at the East end of the Wood maintained up to 3 pairs annually until 1983. Installation of the cross-channel cable duct further destroyed the sedges, and only one pair bred beside the stream in 1984 and 1985. One pair then bred in 1987 in newly established sedges beside the motorway underbridge.

Lesser Whitethroat – Breeding Summer visitor which was recorded in increasing numbers each year, culminating in 8 pairs in 1985. Observations seemed to indicate a preference for wetter locations, especially the hedges and bushes on or near streams

Common Whitethroat – Breeding Summer visitor which recovered significantly from 1983, with up to 6 pairs in scrub on the hillside and hillcrest. Not recorded below the Hill

Garden Warbler In 1981 one pair bred in Biggins Wood for the first time during the period of observation, increasing to 4 pairs by 1985

Blackcap – Up to 4 pairs used to breed in Biggins Wood and the woodland edge above the waterworks each year. No Winter records from the site

Chiffchaff – Common breeding Summer visitor, with up to 20 pairs in Biggins Wood and old hedge under the Hill, and above the waterworks. Surprisingly, no Winter records from the site

Willow Warbler – Common breeding Summer visitor in hedgerows, scrub and woodland edge, though less abundant than Chiffchaff. Records of notable Autumn passage in gorse and scrub along the hillcrest annually

Goldcrest– Uncommon breeding resident. 1 or 2 pairs used to breed in Biggins Wood. Presence in Winter in woodland above the waterworks suggestive of regular influx

Spotted Flycatcher – Uncommon breeding Summer visitor, with 2 pairs regularly present in Biggins Wood each year

Longtailed Tit – Common breeding resident indicated by the presence of family parties across the site. Apparently highly susceptible to hard weather, but no records to indicate whether by mortality or movement

Marsh Tit – Uncommon breeding resident, mostly above the waterworks, but one pair used to breed in Biggins Wood. Birds were often present here in hard weather, when they favoured the damper areas

Blue Tit – Abundant breeding resident with some evident of Winter preference for damper areas in Biggins Wood

Great Tit – Breeding resident in small numbers in Biggins Wood. Observed to be more common in Beech woodland to the East of Castle Hill. Common across the site throughout the Winter

Treecreeper – Uncommon breeding resident. Up to 2 pairs used to breed annually in Biggins Wood

Jay – Uncommon breeding resident, with 2 pairs regularly present in Biggins Wood and above the waterworks. Movement was regularly observed between the two sites, but no evidence of increased numbers during or after the influx into the South-East of the Country of 1984 was noted

Magpie – Common breeding resident across the site, observed to nest at low level in thick scrub under the Hill. A scourge of many first passerine broods

Jackdaw – Bred in small numbers in dead elms on the North-East corner of Biggins Wood, and nearby on buildings in Cheriton. Used to feed on Sheep fields throughout the year. High winds from the South or Ssouthwest invariably induced acrobatic flying in updrafts and turbulence along the hillcrest which was always enormous fun to watch

Rook – Irregularly present all year on the fields, movement of birds to and from rookeries in Hawkinge and Lympne being commonly observed

Carrion Crow - Up to 4 pairs bred in Biggins Wood and along the hedge under the Hill each year

Starling – Up to 10 pairs used to breed in Biggins Wood and above the waterworks. Birds from the town also used the site for feeding. Each summer numbers augmented by young birds which roosted in trees across the site. Spectacular numbers associated with a large roost of some 30,000 birds in Folkestone fed on the site in winter in the early 1980’s

House Sparrow – Commonly recorded across the site, but no records of breeding

Tree Sparrow – There used to be a regular Winter flock along the South side of Biggins Wood, where numbers approaching 250 birds were observed in hard weather. One pair bred on the edge of woodland above the waterworks in 1988

Chaffinch – Widespread but uncommon breeding resident with 2 or 3 pairs each in Biggins Wood and above the waterworks. Beech woodland to the East of Castle Hill always held higher numbers. Some evidence of Winter passage and influx influenced by hard weather

Greenfinch – Widespread but uncommon breeding resident. Breeding birds from Cheriton fed across the site

Goldfinch – Common in late Summer on thistles along the Hill. Up to 4 pairs bred each year in hedgerows across the site

Linnet – Common breeding Summer visitor to the hillside, but absent from November to April. Up to 6 pairs bred

Bullfinch – Uncommon breeding resident. 2 pairs regularly and faithfully bred in Biggins Wood each year, with 2 or more pairs in taller scrub under the Hill

Yellowhammer – Up to 8 pairs bred along the hillcrest, using the gorse and thorny scrub. Very rarely recorded elsewhere

Reed Bunting – A rare visitor. There were 10 present beside the motorway underbridge during January 1983, and a single female was recorded on the hillcrest later that year

 

 

 

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