When the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union (YNU) visited Clifton Ings in 1942, they noted breeding birds including Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow. Sadly the first three of these have disappeared as local nesting species: it is sobering to consider that around 25 pairs of Yellow Wagtails bred on Clifton Ings in the early 1940s but now this bird is only an occasional passer-by on migration. Happily, the Tree Sparrows are still going strong. The YNU found them in a “poplar copse”, which can only have been our very own Rawcliffe Meadows Copse.
The poplars have long since gone and when we first investigated the site in 1990, much of the Copse comprised dead or moribund elm trees, complete with a colony of hole-nesting Tree Sparrows. The elms had to be felled to make safe the newly-built cycle route. So, as well as restocking the Copse with trees, Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows embarked on a programme of nest-boxing to provide alternative breeding habitat. As our photo shows, the boxes continue to be used by Tree Sparrows. Throughout the year, Rawcliffe Meadows is one of the best places in the York area to see this seriously declining songbird.