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Champion of birdlife on the Heath

Kate Springett (1906-1995) was a local resident with a life-long passion for birds. After her retirement, she spent many years teaching evening classes on birdwatching at the Marylebone Institute. Her students from those courses went on to form the Marylebone Birdwatching Society in 1981, with Kate as its founding President. For 44 years, from 1959 to her death, she was the official bird recorder for the Heath.

The annual Ornithological Reports written by Kate and her successors provide a valuable insight into the changing bird fauna of the Heath. Discontinued now for almost two decades, the Society saw a need to re-establish bird monitoring on the Heath, as birds provide a very good indicator of the health of its natural habitats. The Society’s 2020 Nesting Bird Survey revealed a decline in species since Kate’s day. The Heath now has about 50 nesting bird species, about a third of which may be at risk due to increasing human and dog activity on the Heath. Besides these species, the Heath is visited by many other birds during migration periods and over winter. Keen birdwatchers on the Heath typically see about 100 species there every year.

Kate was particularly concerned that birds resident on the Heath be appreciated and protected. In her view, “what matters is getting to know your robins and your thrushes and real conservation is caring about the hedges and bits of scrubland where they feed”. She anticipated the pressure on bird populations that we are experiencing today and campaigned for protecting habitats for birds. She successfully encouraged the establishment of resting platform in ponds for waterbirds, and planting of reedbeds to attract Reed Warblers and other species. As she would say, “get the habitat right and you get the birds”.

Kate was made an honorary lifetime member of the Society, and was honoured in 1994 with the dedication of two acres of the Heath as Springett’s Wood, a protected wildlife habitat. She left a substantial sum to the Society, now the Springett Fund, for the preservation and encouragement of birdlife on the Heath.

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