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White-backed Woodpecker (1 Viewer)

david kelly

Drive-by Birder
I was listening to an old podcast of BBC Radio 4's Saving Species series (September 2010) and they were interviewing an ecologist from Oxford about birds as indicators of wider extinctions. The ecologist mentioned that White-backed Woodpecker was lost as a breeding species in Britain due to deforestation.

He also mentioned we'd lost a lot of breeding herons and possibly White Stork, I believe we did have more Herons (not regular Storks because of the Channel) breeding in pre-modern times but I have never heard anyone else claim White-backed Woodpecker as a former British bird.

Maybe we should re-introduce it too.

David
 

nickderry

C'est pas ma faute, je suis anglais.
I don't know if some of these species arrived in Western Europe after the UK became an island and so never hopped over or if they were lost here after and couldn't recolonise due to the channel. I seem to remember hearing that hazel grouse were once present in what is now the UK.
 

Ashley beolens

Breeding the next generation of birders.
Herons and storks would breed more if there were better farming practices. We don't have the larg bugs they have in Europe due to intensive pestiside useage.
 

MJB

Well-known member
I don't know if some of these species arrived in Western Europe after the UK became an island and so never hopped over or if they were lost here after and couldn't recolonise due to the channel. I seem to remember hearing that hazel grouse were once present in what is now the UK.

Has anyone got a contact who knows their way around the osteology side at Tring or perhaps South Kensington? I would think that someone there has the kind of knowledge that the late lamented Colin Harrison used to distribute.
MJB
 

ed keeble

Well-known member
White-backed Woodpecker was probably present as recently as the Middle Ages (dunno what quality of evidence). Quite a thought tho.
 

Jonathan Williams

Well-known member
White-backed Woodpecker was probably present as recently as the Middle Ages (dunno what quality of evidence). Quite a thought tho.

Suppressing b*st*rds, that's the first I've heard of it!!!

I twitched it by donkey, 50 years after it had gone.

Sounds like the 70s again.
 

jurek

Well-known member
I never heard of a positive proof (bones, old book accounts etc.) of White-backed Woodpecker in ancient Britain.

There is such a theory, but equally likely this sedentary bird didn't make it before Britain was cut off from the Continent after the last Ice Age.
 

King Edward

Well-known member
I remember hearing this programme at the time - as far as I remember I had a quick look online and couldn't find much (any) information about this being here in the past. That's not to say it wasn't though.

The main issue seems to be its requirement for old growth forest with lots of dying trees, so reintroduction seems to be pretty much a non-starter since we lost all that centuries ago. Unfortunately, there also seems to be very little pressure for such undisturbed natural habitats to be recreated given the fashion for active management in conservation (coppicing, grazing etc.).
 

MJB

Well-known member
The main issue seems to be its requirement for old growth forest with lots of dying trees, so reintroduction seems to be pretty much a non-starter since we lost all that centuries ago. Unfortunately, there also seems to be very little pressure for such undisturbed natural habitats to be recreated given the fashion for active management in conservation (coppicing, grazing etc.).

If White-backed Woodpecker once was a breeding brd in England, then perhaps the loss of English forests because of the demand for wood for sailing ships and particularly masts meant that dying trees were quickly felled to encourage trees to grow tall and straight.

All these efforts must have been in vain, because most large ships built of wood after 1800 and before iron ships supplanted them were constructed at least in part from imported timber, mostly from the Baltic or German-speaking fiefdoms...

Perhaps the White-backed Woodpeckers were ship-assisted?:-O:-O
MJB


MJB
 

King Edward

Well-known member
If White-backed Woodpecker once was a breeding brd in England, then perhaps the loss of English forests because of the demand for wood for sailing ships and particularly masts meant that dying trees were quickly felled to encourage trees to grow tall and straight.
Is that a serious suggestion? Native forest loss was due mainly to clearance for arable/pasture land and management of most of the remainder for wood products (coppice etc., i.e. not loss of area, but loss of old growth characteristics). Ship building was not that significant.
 

Jon Turner

Well-known member
Is that a serious suggestion? Native forest loss was due mainly to clearance for arable/pasture land and management of most of the remainder for wood products (coppice etc., i.e. not loss of area, but loss of old growth characteristics). Ship building was not that significant.

I think deforestation was a very serious consequence of ship-building in Portugal and southern Spain around the time of the Armada?
 

rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
Suppressing b*st*rds, that's the first I've heard of it!!!

I twitched it by donkey, 50 years after it had gone.

Sounds like the 70s again.

Was your donkey twitch at Gavarnie? They were noted there in the 80's!! As for England why not? I would suggest that the odds are extremely good. Wouldn't like to guess the race though....
 

Steve Dudley

aka The Toadsnatcher
I think deforestation was a very serious consequence of ship-building in Portugal and southern Spain around the time of the Armada?

Yes, this is my thought too that ship-building was a serious cause of deforestation in medieval times. Admittedly not as serious as the impact of agriculture, but none-the-less, still an important secondary cause.
 

ed keeble

Well-known member
Yes, this is my thought too that ship-building was a serious cause of deforestation in medieval times. Admittedly not as serious as the impact of agriculture, but none-the-less, still an important secondary cause.

hot topic that - some fantastic stuff in Oliver Rackham's books with old maps showing how startlingly early some of the remnant big woods were already becoming isolated in the landscape, with intensive coppicing etc.

back on the theory that WBW may have been in UK up to historic times, it gets a mention in Gorman's Woodpecker book as a possibility, but no evidence

one issue would be whether UK ever had the range of big beetles and larvae to support WBW post-glaciation, compared to what remained/became available in "mainland" Europe

reminds me of the comment that if a Black Woodpecker finally makes it to a block of conifers over here, it might be very disappointed in what if finds foodwise, compared to a coastal strip in e.g. Calais which might superficially look the same
 

King Edward

Well-known member
I think deforestation was a very serious consequence of ship-building in Portugal and southern Spain around the time of the Armada?
Yes, this is my thought too that ship-building was a serious cause of deforestation in medieval times. Admittedly not as serious as the impact of agriculture, but none-the-less, still an important secondary cause.
I don't know about Iberia, but in general I find the link between deforestation and shipbuilding pretty unconvincing. For example, on p.51 of Oliver Rackham's book 'Trees & Woodland in the British Landscape', he gives an overall figure of 14.9% woodland in England in 1086 (Domesday Book). This is long before appreciable amounts of wood can have been used for ships, and when you take into account that much of the remainder must have been intensively managed as coppice for firewood, building material etc. the amount of old growth forest remaining at this point must have been pretty minimal.

After that, when you take into account population growth especially during the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium and the demands of coppice wood by both the tanning industry and the industrial revolution, I don't think there's much need to invoke ship building as a particularly important factor.

one issue would be whether UK ever had the range of big beetles and larvae to support WBW post-glaciation, compared to what remained/became available in "mainland" Europe

reminds me of the comment that if a Black Woodpecker finally makes it to a block of conifers over here, it might be very disappointed in what if finds foodwise, compared to a coastal strip in e.g. Calais which might superficially look the same

Considering the amount of potential beetle food available in a densely forested landscape that seems a somewhat unlikely constraint. Admittedly many old-growth forest species aren't that great at dispersing but beetles can fly at least (mostly), and with a large source habitat on the European mainland you'd think there would be sufficient potential colonists.
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
As far as I am aware the suggestion that White-backed Woodpecker once bred in Britain was first made in an interesting letter to British Birds (BB Vol 93 No 9 p453-456 – Sept 2000) by Ludwik Tomiaƚojc. The writer challenged the common assumption that the predominantly eastern distribution of the species suggested that this was due to some sort of climatic or geographical limitation. He suggested instead that it reflected the greater scale and intensity of woodland clearance and management in lowland western Europe. White-backed Woodpecker, with its need for dead timber, is particularly vulnerable to enthusiastic woodland management (and woodlands were a valuable resource in Mediaeval Britain to be carefully managed rather than casually destroyed wholesale). Projecting the extent of available woodlands into the past suggests that the species may have once been found here. A reasonable speculation, though, remains speculation.

Interestingly, Yalden & Albarella (in ‘The History of British Birds’) also list Grey-headed, Three-toed and Black Woodpeckers in ‘an historical list of British Birds’ (although, oddly perhaps, not Middle-spotted Woodpecker). Presumably, since they don’t reference any archaeological material for this claim, this is on the same basis (i.e. a projection of assumed historic habitats). I think the overall point, that is that current populations may not reflect bio-geographical constraints is valid. However, I’m not convinced that this general point can be meaningfully applied to individual species; birds, as we all know, don’t always play to the rules with which we try to confine them,
 

MJB

Well-known member
Is that a serious suggestion? Native forest loss was due mainly to clearance for arable/pasture land and management of most of the remainder for wood products (coppice etc., i.e. not loss of area, but loss of old growth characteristics). Ship building was not that significant.

I don't disagree with you about overall forest loss, but the great oaks were the first choice of shipbuilders. Long-term planning wasn't a government strength then, so perhaps little has changed.

When the UK population was only around a tenth of present-day levels, land-clearance hadn't quite reached the extent that generates scale-effect changes (eg the persistence of small fields), but even then, the amount of mature, tall timber available for single-tree masts, was in rapid decline. Merchant and naval ships alike were being built at a tremendous rate (often as replacements, because thousands of ships were lost at sea), and England shifted from being an exporter of this kind of wood to a net importer. Imports from the Baltic met some of the demand, but as ships grew larger, the necessity of making masts from several shaped long timbers advanced the technology. This was the interpretation of several maritime historians in quite a number of books I've read. Of course, modern research may well have shown that things were not that simple...
MJB
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
White-backed Woodpecker was probably present as recently as the Middle Ages (dunno what quality of evidence). Quite a thought tho.

If White-backed Woodpecker did manage to get here before the channel opened up and if woodland management hadn't by then reduced available habitat then the species might have persisted into the Middle Ages .... or perhaps the Tudor period ... The truth is, of course, that there is no evidence (in any meaningful sense) that the species was ever present still less when it may have died out. All we have is speculation which however informed remains speculation,
 

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