Yellowhammers: Templeton Airfield Survey

Templeton airfield is about 9 miles North of Tenby, Pembrokeshire. Owned and managed by the Ministry of Defence, but with public access, Templeton airfield, is a wonderful 403-acre site of old runways, extensive scrub, young woodland, ponds and sheep-grazed open grasslands. It is home to a wealth of wildlife, and potentially an important site for breeding Yellowhammers in Pembrokeshire.

In 2021 and 2022, with support from the Ministry of Defence and with valuable input from local volunteers, we assessed the size of the airfield’s breeding Yellowhammer population by surveying fixed routes which covered most areas of the site.

Each volunteer committed to surveying a transect monthly from March through to July, noting locations of singing males. At the end of both seasons, we collated the results to estimate the number of territories on the site. The results of the 2022 season are illustrated in Fig 1.

Figure 1. This shows the monthly distribution of singing male Yellowhammers at Templeton Airfield in spring and summer 2022.  The yellow dots = March records, red = April, blue = May only, pink = May and June, white = July.  The red lines indicate birds noted singing simultaneously and the white circles represent 12 proposed territories, based on the previous information.

The results in both years were similar – 2022 was the better year with slightly more singing males recorded and 12 territories identified (Fig.2). Where birds were singing simultaneously we could identify territory boundaries. As in 2021, the birds preferred the more southerly and westerly areas of the airfield, where the wealth of scrub and open grassland provides excellent breeding habitat and readily available food resources.

The habitat survey

During the summer of 2022 we also carried out habitat surveys at Templeton Airfield using the open access EarthTrack app developed by the Living Wales team at Aberystwyth University.  Using this app, the surveyor takes habitat photographs and records vegetation and environmental data at each sample point.

Figure 2.   Screenshots from the EarthTrack habitat survey app showing the distribution of the sampling points at Templeton Airfield and images of the habitats at the selected sample points.

The survey noted a wide range of habitat types.  These included stands of species-rich semi-improved grassland, poor semi-improved grassland, marshy grassland dominated by purple moor grass, rush pasture, dense stands of marsh thistle – presumably persisting in areas drained during the construction of the airfield, gorse scrub, bramble scrub, bracken and copses of broad-leaved woodland.  The edges of, and cracks in, the runways support good populations of annual plants, not unlike the margins of unsprayed arable fields, these could also be an important source of food for the Yellowhammers.