Durham Priority Species
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Nightjar Action Plan

Priority Species: Nightjar

1. Maintain and enhance the population of nightjars in the DBAP area
2. Improve our knowledge of the distribution and status of nightjar
3. Ensure that appropriate habitat management is undertaken on sites where suitable breeding conditions for nightjar can be created.
4. Increase public awareness of the nightjar and it’s habitat requirements

Vision Statement: For nightjar to become established on new sites and for population numbers to increase on all sites

Target Type Unit Value
1. To maintain the number of nightjar in the Durham BAP area. maintain occupied km squares

The nightjar is typically a bird of lowland heathlands and open areas within mature woodland, although this century it has become increasingly adapted to using clear felled areas within commercial forestry plantations. It is nocturnal though mainly active at dawn and dusk.

Nightjars are summer visitors to Europe, spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa; they arrive in the UK in early May and have migrated south by October.

Nationally nightjar suffered an approximately 50% reduction in numbers and range (occupied kilometre squares) during the 1970s and 1980s. Some recovery was seen in the 1990s probably through the increased area of forestry clear fell. A 1992 survey found over 50% of the population in this habitat.

Local status

The nightjar has been recorded mainly in coniferous woodland areas and heathland in Durham. The Forestry Commision’s Hamsterley Forest is the most regularly occupied site but there have been small outlying populations at other sites including Chopwell Woods in the mid 1990s and more recently the Stang Forest near Barnard Castle, and at Hedleyhope Fell near Tow Law.

The bird is rather a scarce summer visitor to the Durham area, being unrecorded as a breeding species between 1985 and 1988. Nightjar has bred regularly at Hamsterley Forest since then, with the population varying between a handful of birds and a maximum of 21 churring (i.e. singing) males in 1996.

The nightjar’s present and historic restriction to just one area in the Durham BAP area makes it vulnerable.


  • Loss of habitat – primarily sheltered heathland and clear fell areas in coniferous forest for breeding, in a mosaic with insect rich areas of unimproved grassland and heathland, hedgerows and woodland for feeding.
  • Poor habitat management
  • Disturbance – either from recreational use or forestry operations can harm breeding success.