Thetford Forest together with much of the surrounding farmland make up the Breckland Special Protection Area (SPA). Tunstall and Rendlesham Forests on the Suffolk coast make up part of the Sandlings SPA.
SPAs are designated to protect internationally rare breeding birds. Along with Special Areas of Conservation, SPAs form a European network of ‘Natura 2000’ sites, designed to protect Europe’s most threatened wildlife.
The Breckland and Sandlings SPAs were designated in 2006 and 2001 respectively. Both SPAs are designated for their significant populations of Woodlark (Lullula arborea) and Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). About 270 pairs of Woodlark and 350 pairs of Nightjar are to be found in Thetford Forest and this represents about 20% and 10% respectively of the total UK populations of these birds.
Woodlark and Nightjars are both ground nesting birds, dependent on the clear-felling and replanting methods of timber production in these forests, which provide them with suitable feeding and breeding habitats. About 200ha of new habitat are created each year through clear-felling in Thetford Forest. Woodlark and Nightjars can also be found in open grassland and heathland areas throughout the forest. About 40% of the UK populations of these two rare birds are to be found in planted forests.
For further information on Special Protection Areas go to: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-162
For further information on Woodlarks and Nightjar go to : http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/a/index.asp