Europe's biggest woodpecker is heading for Britain

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Europe's most spectacular woodland birds, the black woodpecker, is heading towards Britain.

As big as a crow and twice the size of its nearest British relative, the great spotted woodpecker, it is traditionally a bird of Central European forests, but it has been spreading westwards for the past 50 years.

Some of them are now nesting so close to France's Channel coast that the nearest pairs are just 100 miles from Kent and Sussex and one expert is predicting they will soon make their first appearance in England.

In the latest edition of Birding World, published by the Bird Information Service, Gerard Gorman writes: "I personally find it hard to believe that the species has so far never managed to reach Britain. Black woodpeckers are purposeful, strong flyers which often travel several miles cross-country between nesting, roosting and foraging sites.

"Quite large bodies of water present no problem for dispersing black woodpeckers and clearly the waters separating Britain from mainland Europe are narrow enough for pioneering birds to cross."

The birds are striking in appearance, jet black except for an ivory-coloured bill and a scarlet crown. Their population expansion is linked to deciduous woodlands maturing across Europe - they particularly like tall stands of beech trees - and also the growth of Norway spruce plantations.

Mr Gorman says Britain has a lot of habitat that would suit them and their eventual occurrence here "is not only possible but seems inevitable.

"It may even be imminent and, given the dynamic nature of the species' expansion on the near continent and the relatively short distance involved, it may not be unreasonable to believe that several birds could make the short trip across the sea in the coming years."