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Fineshade as SSSI? ... birds

Part 2, Chapter 17 Birds, part of the revised guidelines, can be downloaded here:


This page draws upon this published document from the Joint Nature Conservation Committeee.


Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs

Part 2: Detailed Guidelines for Habitats and Species Groups

Chapter 17 Birds.  Revised and published 2015 


This document runs to 16 pages and provides detailed guidance for use in selecting bird sites to recommend for notification as SSSIs.

In relating the document to Fineshade, it is important to read it as whole including the important statements in the introduction such as these:

There is also a need to maintain the level of protection in response to changes in bird distribution, for example as a result of future predicted changes in climate, by reviewing the adequacy of the network of sites and taking action to protect new locations of importance.

(Introduction page 2)


Relatively dispersed but rapidly declining species and those restricted to particularly threatened and fragmented habitats require special attention. It is likely that habitat protection and management conferred by SSSI notification will make an increasingly significant contribution to the conservation of these species

(Introduction page 3)

Of particular importance may be those of Fineshade’s bird species which are now clearly at the edge of their range such as Nightingale and Willow Tit and the very rapidly declining Turtle Dove. Perhaps Fineshade should be seen as one of the new locations of importance that need action taken to protect them.


However, we believe that the most compelling reasons for Fineshade's notification as a SSSI concern the significant assemblages of breeding bird species that occur in the two main habitat types within Fineshade.


"Localities which support an especially good range of bird species... as defined by an index value, will qualify for SSSI selection"

Assemblages of breeding bird species


It is section 3.8 of the Guidelines Chapter 17: Birds that appears to be of particular relevance to Fineshade Wood. Here is the wording in full.





Localities which support an especially good range of bird species characteristic of a particular habitat, as defined by an index value, will qualify for SSSI selection. Different habitats support different numbers of bird species, and there are geographical differences within the same habitat type. Therefore, the index value denoting a breeding assemblage of special quality differs between habitats and may differ geographically in order to maintain the range of the birds concerned. Refer to Annex 1 for use of species lists and index values, and for the approach to sites consisting of mixed habitats.

Quoted from Section 4.10 of Forest Holidays' Ecological Desktop Survey & Ecological Appraisal, Fineshade Wood, Northamptonshire. December 2013, revised June 2014 Version 3.


This document may be downloaded from here on the East Northants Council Planning website.

Final Ecological Report. Proposed Holiday Lodge Site within Fineshade Woodland, near Duddington, Northamptonshire. September 2014, Version 2.


This document may be downloaded from here on the East Northants Council Planning website.

Lowland scrub habitat


Threshold index value 14


Fineshade index value 19.5

Turning to Annex 1 it explains that the index value for a site is calculated by summing “Indices of abundance” for the species breeding in it. Species may be included that have been recorded as probably breeding in the majority of recent years for which information is available.


For example in lowland woodland a bird such as the Willow Warbler has an index of abundance of 1, whereas the Hobby has index of abundance of 3. Fineshade has both species so it scores 1+3 = 4 points, just for these two species. Add together the points for all the breeding species in each of the habitat types of a potential SSSI and if any total exceeds a certain threshold value the site is SSSI-worthy for its assemblage of birds.


Notice that although the adding up of points gives the method an apparent exactness, there is a need for expert judgement  and interpretation in deciding exactly which species qualify both as “probably breeding” and whether there are reliable records for “the majority of recent years for which information is available”.


In relation to the first point, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) separates breeding evidence into three classes indicating possible, probable and confirmed breeding. For example, a single sighting of a bird in suitable habitat may indicate only possible breeding, whereas if the bird is recorded repeatedly or if a pair is seen in suitable habitat this indicates probable breeding.  A nest with eggs or recently fledged birds indicates confirmed breeding.  For the rest of this analysis we refer to Fineshade records where we believe there is probable or confirmed breeding using BTO definitions of the terms.


It is harder to interpret what is meant by “recent years” and also “for which information is available”. For example, as Forest Holidays’ ecological consultant pointed out :

“Crossbills (a Schedule 1 bird) have been recorded within Fineshade and adjacent woodland in autumn and winter 2002, and have been recorded breeding in the past.”

Whether or not these records would allow the index of abundance for the Crossbill to be added to Fineshade’s woodland index value would, no doubt, be part of the expert judgement that Natural England would provide when assessing for SSSI worthiness.

Fineshade’s main habitat types

There are two clear habitat types (as defined in the Guidelines) in Fineshade Wood. These are Lowland Scrub and Woodland.


Lowland Scrub 

The Guidlines' threshold value for notification of SSSI is 14, The species contributing to the index value are listed below along with their indices of abundance. We believe there is robust evidence that the birds indicated should be included. This evidence comes partly from Forest Holidays Final Ecological Report, Appendix II, reporting on their surveys of just part of the wood in 2014, but also from ongoing monitoring and records from other parts of the entire Fineshade Wood site.


(Note: Forest Holidays commissioned further detailed bird survey in 2015 with a different consultant, AECOM, carrying out the work for them. By early 2018 the results of that survey had not been made public, but once published it can only increase the indices of abundance in this list.)

Turtle Dove                    2                 ?        

Cuckoo                         2.5              yes

Long-eared Owl             3                yes

Willow Tit                       3                yes

Long-tailed Tit                1                yes

Garden Warbler             1                yes

Lesser Whitethroat        2                yes

Grasshopper Warbler    2                yes

Nightingale                    3                yes

Linnet                            1

Lesser Redpoll              1               

Bullfinch                        1                 yes

Yellowhammer              1                 yes

Cirl Bunting                   4

Turtle Dove may not be included since, although it was common here as little as 10 years ago, its numbers have collapsed both locally and nationally. The only recent known record was quoted by Forest Holidays: "a record of a single bird in 2013".


Even omitting Turtle Dove, the Fineshade index value is 19.5 – well above the threshold value of 14.


Woodland in lowland England


The threshold value is 39 for this habitat.  Again the species contributing to the index value are listed below, along with their indices of abundance. We believe there is robust evidence that the birds indicated should be included.

Woodland habitat


Threshold index value 39


Fineshade index value 44

Grey Heron                        2

Little Egret                         4 

Honey-buzzard                  5

Red Kite                             3          yes

Goshawk                            4

Sparrowhawk                     2          yes

Buzzard                              2          yes

Osprey                                4

Hobby                                 3          yes

Black Grouse                      3

Capercaillie                         4

Woodcock                           2         yes

Stock Dove                         1

Cuckoo                              2.5        yes

Tawny Owl                          2          yes

Long-eared Owl                  3          yes

Wryneck                              6

Green Woodpecker             2          yes

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1          yes

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker  3

Jay                                       1          yes

Raven                                  3          yes

Firecrest                             4

Crested Tit                         3

Coal Tit                              1          yes

Willow Tit                           3          yes

Marsh Tit                            2          yes

Long-tailed Tit                    1          yes

Wood Warbler                    3

Garden Warbler                 1          yes

Nuthatch                            1          yes

Treecreeper                       1          yes

Fieldfare                             6

Redwing                            5.5

Spotted Flycatcher             2          yes

Nightingale                         3          yes

Pied Flycatcher                  2

Redstart                            1.5

Tree Pipit                          1.5         yes

Siskin                                 1

Lesser Redpoll                   1         

Common Crossbill              2            ?

Scottish Crossbill              2.5

Bullfinch                              1          yes

Hawfinch                             4            ?

Even omitting Common Crossbill  (and also Hawfinch) for which there are no recent records but which bred within the last 20 years, the Fineshade index value would be 44   and above the threshold value of 39.

UPDATE. Crossbills probably bred in Fineshade in 2017.


Nightjars - a heathland species


In the above analysis no account is taken of Fineshade’s Nightjars because they occur neither on the Lowland Scrub nor Woodland lists, but rather on the list for Lowland Heathland. No-one would claim that any part of Fineshade Wood resembles heathland, but the fact that they are here in such unusual habitat (certainly they occur no-where else in Northamptonshire) should be something that Natural England’s specialists should bear in mind as they move towards making a decision about Fineshade’s worthiness for SSSI status.

Fineshade Wood has assemblages of breeding bird  species which make it eligible for notification as a SSSI

This page checked and updated February 2018

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