Issuu on Google+

Making a real difference for birds

Your effort, Your stories!

We celebrate 2013 and look forward to the year ahead

From the British Trust for Ornithology

N som eed Come e help ? o

no wide range ne of our of works hops training the co around untry

Passing on the skills to new recorders

Is 1,000 species in a 1-km square possible?

The breeding bird survey turns 20 this year

Nest Record Scheme looks forward from its first 75 years

One surveyor sets himself the challenge. Did he manage it?

How have bird populations changed since BBS began?

E d i to r i a l

Welcome... BTO’s Volunteer magazine 2014 – a free magazine for everyone who contributes to our wide range of surveys and schemes. Over the past five years, BTO volunteers have contributed a staggering 1,694,137 hours of time to the BTO on average, every year. That is the equivalent of 1,041 additional full-time staff (our total staff size is currently 100), and a conservative estimate places the monetary value of this work at around £34.4 million annually. Our goal with this magazine is to give feedback and thanks to those of you who have given generously to this effort, and to encourage those of you who have been sitting on the side-lines so far to dive in: we need you and there’s lots to do! I was completely floored by the acceptance speech delivered by one of our longest serving volunteers as he received a BTO medal at our annual conference in December. Despite being a volunteer of 50 years and an author of several scientific papers, Richard Bland spoke humbly and movingly about the things that have motivated him to keep on keeping on. On page 16 you can read a snippet of his speech, and I hope you’ll enjoy comparing and contrasting it with the views of young Findlay Wilde who, at 11 years of age, is one of our youngest and most vocal volunteers.

Inside we’ve also got updates for you on our latest series of surveys on Nightingales, chats, winter thrushes and Woodcock, and tips on what you can do to get involved this year. It’s a great time to get involved in recording nests as the NRS celebrates its 75th anniversary, and as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) reaches 20 years there’s never been a better time to take on a BBS square. BTO is lucky to be able to count on the incredible support that so many tens of thousands of you give us through our surveys and schemes. In order to deliver these effectively and to analyse, interpret and communicate their results, we must raise at least £5 million annually from contracts, donations and membership. We could do more and in order to make real change – to make our islands better for birds – we need to scale up our unrestricted income. This will give our scientists the freedom they need to analyse and deliver high quality outputs, and our IS team the space to innovate and create. Please help us this year by participating in our surveys, donating much-needed funds, or simply by spreading the word about the value of the work that we do together. Thanks for your support, I hope you enjoy the magazine

Ieuan Evans Head of Membership and Volunteer Engagement

did you know? Blackbird was the hands-down winner of

birds choose berries in trees and

the Early Bird Survey, run as part of BTO

shrubs first, and only swap to feeding

Garden BirdWatch this year, arriving, on

on the ground when the berries have

average, about 11 minutes after daybreak,

been depleted.

closely followed by Robin and Blue Tit. Thanks to our Cuckoo tracking project we now Robin is a very common bird, but we still receive

know that Cuckoos travel at an average speed

very small numbers of nest records from some

of 50km per hour and fly around 4 miles high,

areas. There are 23 counties from which we

usually at night when migrating.

have received fewer than 5 records a year and 11 from which we didn’t receive any at all!.

The BTO YouTube channel now has over 2,000 subscribers and our 36 (and


Information gathered as part of the

growing) collection of bird ID videos have

Winter Thrushes Survey has shown that

had over 400,000 views.

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

c o n t en ts

In this issue... pg14



pg6 Welcome . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

What next? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Local listing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

Celebrating a year of volunteering.

Three ways you can get involved now, if you don’t already take part.

One member of BTO staff’s quest to record

Breeding Bird Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 This year marks the 20th field season of the BBS. How have things changed in that time?

local voyage of discovery.

Contents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

Cover photographs: Tipling Contents: david Tipling Sayer

Catching up with surveys . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Winter Thrushes, Welsh Chats, Nightingales, BirdTrack and WBBS.

Passing on the baton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Getting a new generation involved with nest recording.

Volunteer motivation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Just what does makes you tick? We look at the results of a fascinating survey.

Young to old . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 BTO through the eyes of two members, one a long-time active member, the other a new recruit to the ranks.

Beyond the maps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 We demonstrate how your atlas records are translated into conservation science.

1,000 species in a 1km square became a

Wondrous Woodcock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Results from last year’s survey add to our knowledge of the status of this mysterious long-distance traveller.

WeBS and conservation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 How Wetland Bird Survey data feed into conservation and highlighting the gaps in coverage we need to fill.

The British Trust For Ornithology

Contact us BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU Telephone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01842 750050 Facsimile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01842 750030 E-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Web site . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BTO Scotland, School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Cottrell Building, University of Stirling, FK9 4LA Telephone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01786 466560 Facsimile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01786 466561 E-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BTO Cymru, Thoday Building, Deiniol Rd, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2UW Telephone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01248 383285 E-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The BTO promotes and encourages the wider understanding, appreciation and conservation of birds. Registered Charity no. 216652 (England & Wales) no. SC039193 (Scotland).

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

ISSN 0005 – 3392

Patron HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, KG, KT President Chris Packham. Chairman Professor Tony Fox. Honorary Secretary Neil Bucknell. Honorary Treasurer Dr John Osmond. BTO Volunteer magazine JNCC — All references to JNCC in BTO Volunteer refer to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which is the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation, on behalf of Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland’s Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage. Editors Ieuan Evans, Su Gough. Layout, design, imagesetting and typesetting O’Connor Design Consultants.

Printing Reflex Litho, St Helen’s Way Industrial Estate, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 1HG. BTO Membership Individual . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £33 Family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £43 Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £825 Fellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £55 Family Fellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £65 Life Fellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £1,375 Fellows receive Bird Study journal.

When you have finished with this magazine, pass it to a friend or recycle it.

The views expressed by the contributors to this magazine are not necessarily those of the Editors, the Council of the BTO or its committees. The Editor welcomes any articles on birds. © BTO 2014. Quotations should carry a full acknowledgement.


R e c e n t s u rv ey ro u n d - u p Nightingale Survey

News on Nightingale numbers Taking the 2012 and 2013 counts together from the latest Nightingale Survey, we now have a good basis for estimating population size and habitat use. Overall, a total of about 3,300 territories were recorded. The preliminary results shows the distribution of territories recorded during main survey visits. It is worth pointing out that in both 2012 and 2013 there was a remarkable record of a territory holding bird in Cleveland, perhaps the most northerly record for many decades. Revealing the picture Statistical techniques have been used to estimate the numbers of birds likely to be present in areas which weren’t covered and also to correct for detection – this is necessary because the probability of detecting all the territorial

The results from the latest Nightingale Survey give us the most accurate estimate of population size.

birds that are actually present on the two early morning visits is considerably less

2012/13, we now believe that the 1999

to underestimate paired birds which are

than 100%.

survey underestimated the population,

thought to sing less at night than unpaired

mainly because strong emphasis was

birds and because incomplete detectability

placed on nocturnal visits which tend

was not full accounted for.

Although we have not yet calculated the final population estimate for

BirdTrack goes international and WBBS arrives online On April 1 we took the first step in turning BirdTrack into a global system that can be used wherever you might be in the world. Initially, the international data entry will have limited functionality but we plan to develop it into a fully functioning global online system with an accompanying app in the longer-term. Another exciting development is the launch of the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey (WBBS) online. Volunteers participating in WBBS can now use an online system to enter data. The system is based on the existing BBS survey system so will be familiar to many people. To take part in WBBS you need to be able to identify most birds you are likely to see or hear along a waterway. To see if there is a vacant WBBS transect on a waterway near you, email


Grey Wagtail numbers have declined in recent years and is now amber listed. It is one of the vital indicators of water quality that is covered by WBBS.

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

R e c e n t s u rv ey ro u n d - u p Winter Thrushes Survey

Bad weather doesn’t stop play Despite the atrocious weather, the second winter of the Winter Thrushes Survey has progressed well with over 540,000 thrushes recorded on 7,500 visits by February. Early analysis of the data highlights clearly the shift from feeding in trees and bushes, which peaks in November, to feeding on the ground later in the winter. This change is evident in all the thrush species and stems from their use of berries and fruits in hedgerows and trees until those supplies run low, followed by foraging on the ground, mainly for fallen fruit or for soil invertebrates. We are investigating how the timing of this change varies with species and region and 2013 data will show whether similar patterns will prevail across both years of the survey. Underlining the importance of this work is the recently updated BirdTrends report which suggests that Mistle Thrush may well be a candidate for moving from Amber to Red listed as a bird of conservation concern at the next review due to on-going population declines.

Funds raised by the BTO raffle enabled the Winter Thrush Survey to proceed.

welsh chats Survey

david Fellowes/luke delve

Chats around Wales Wales remains one of the UK breeding

cover and Whinchats with semi-natural

strongholds for Wheatear and Whinchat,

grassland and damp areas. 

as well as for the expanding population

In many places, semi-natural

of Stonechats, however, both Wheatear

grassland may only be available in

and Whinchat are declining in Wales

areas protected from heavy grazing,

with Whinchat being too scarce to be

such as fenced young tree plantations

monitored by the BBS.

or boulder-strewn steep slopes where

The survey was undertaken to improve

rank herbaceous cover is also less likely

the monitoring of these species and to

to dominate. Due to land management

help identify relationships with habitat

and grazing, the natural grassland

that could inform land management for

components of the habitat favoured

conservation. Despite a very wet spring

by Whinchats especially, will continue

in 2012, across two years of surveying,

to become increasingly dispersed

nearly 300 different 1-km squares

if it is protected only by topography

were visited by volunteers, with chats

(inaccessibility) or incidental exclusion

recorded in 63.4% of visited squares. All

(fenced plantations). Wheatear had a

species were associated with extensively

strong association with rocky outcrops

managed, non-intensive, unimproved,

which may emphasise a need for

habitats, and none with linear features

breeding crevices, however, some

such as hedges. Both Stonechats and

protection of the surrounding foraging

Whinchats were associated with scrub

habitat from intensive grazing may

or bracken but Stonechats were also

also be important. Further analysis

associated with coarser herbaceous

of these data is ongoing.

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

Wher e a Whe to find a t Welsh ear? The shows Chat Surve th y prefere ere is a stro ng nce w ith near su itable rocks foragin habita g ts


Nest Record Scheme

the baton The receipt of nine Swallow nest histories during the 1939 breeding season gave birth to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme. One and a half million records later, as the NRS hits 75, Dave Leech and Carl Barimore reflect on the past and look forward to the scheme’s future.


gleaned my entire ornithological identification knowledge from the Observers’ Book of Birds Eggs. During the late 1960s, I was one of a small bunch of those dirty faced

The species that started the NRS 75 years ago is now a mainstay of the scheme, with 86,000 records of individual nesting attempts of Swallow received to date.

urchins you would see backing out of a thick hawthorn hedge, guiltily cradling one of the

have been ringed”.

items described in the pages of this essential

Recording on the rise


Many of our most prolific nest recorders

While the initial foray into the world of

recount similar tales of conversion from the

nesting was frequently destructive, many

dark side at an early age and engaging this

subsequently saw the error of their ways,

community of latent surveyors has been vital

Historically, nests offered a gateway

becoming huge assets to the conservation

to the continued success of the Nest Record

into ornithology – in the absence of good

community in the process. Our volunteer’s

Scheme. The efforts of these volunteers during

optics, the options for getting a decent

story continues: “The discovery of a mystery

the 1960s and 1970s quickly pushed the

view of a bird were restricted to shooting it

nest a year later, which turned out to be a

annual number of nests monitored above the

or waiting patiently to observe the parents

Spotted Flycatcher, coincided with one of

25,000 mark (Fig 1). The survey’s momentum

as they visited their brood. As binoculars

the older boys discovering the Nest Record

and the exceptional motivational skills of new

became widely available, nesting remained

Scheme, causing that competitive little gang

BTO staff member David Glue meant that a

an inexpensive alternative for the younger

to make a slight change in direction – the

40% drop in submissions in the early 1980s

generation but, unfortunately, children did

flycatchers fledged and over the last 44

was quickly reversed and totals continued to

not always restrict themselves to observing,

years, more than 14,000 nest records have

shoot up, topping 40,000 by the mid-1990s.

as one nest recorder explains. “As a youth, I

been submitted to BTO and 25,000 pulli

The raised profile of nest recording, made

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014 HArding

Passing on

Nest Record Scheme

possible by the generosity of Dilys Breese, and the development of an electronic submissions system by volunteer Mark Cubitt, helped

NRS submission totals 1939–2012

FIG 1. Numbers of monitored nests have fluctuated between years, but the overall trend has been positive.

reverse a second slump in the late 1990s, record 45,000 nests monitored in 2012. A shift in focus A combination of education, revised legislation and a lot of hard work, much of it on the part of the RSPB’s Investigations Unit, has greatly reduced the incidence of egg collecting in

50000 Number of records submitted

and the NRS is currently in great health, with a

the UK, a huge conservation achievement.

45000 40000 35000 30000 25000 20000 15000 10000 5000 0

An unfortunate by-product of this victory,





















however, has been a shift in the ornithological community’s focus away from the nest at a time when the pressure on bird populations, and therefore the need to understand the

Inheriting enthusiasm: Reed Warbler nest recording 1200

greatest. As a result, the NRS in 2014 faces a


new challenge; creating the next generation of


volunteer nesters from scratch. Back to the future Asking our existing recorders how they became nesters was an obvious starting point, and the many responses received highlighted two common themes. The first was the value of a good book, be it the Observer guide mentioned above, Watching Birds by James Fisher or Finding Nests by the legendary Bruce Campbell, prompting BTO to produce our own Field Guide to Nest Monitoring in 2011. The second theme was the importance of a mentor. For John Callion, the role was performed by his father, while other recorders, including Hugh Insley and Mike Trubridge, cited teachers as the source of initial encouragement. Unsurprisingly, local birders, ringers and natural history societies provided the required guidance and support for many other NRS participants.

Number of records submitted

mechanisms underlying their declines, is at its

Dave Stone 650

Nigel Westwood 2,200


Rye Meads RG 1,150


Thetford Forest RG 1,000

Maclolm Calvert 700

700 600 David Warden 4,650

500 400 300 200

Gillian Dinsmore 200

100 0 39




















FIG 2. Reed Warbler nest recording provides a great example of the inspirational effect that the studies of one generation can have on the next. All the recorders and groups listed above are still actively monitoring Reed Warbler populations: figures show the total number of records contributed to date. Is warmer weather extending the length of the Reed Warbler breeding season? We need more recorders to help us find out.

The value of one-to-one training in the field is clear, but how could we provide this with existing staff resources? As usual, our volunteers have come to the rescue and in 2014 we will be establishing a NRS Mentoring Scheme, whereby existing recorders will take keen new recruits under their wing, providing advice on techniques to find and monitor nests safely and efficiently. With their help, we will ensure that both the NRS and the UK’s birds are still in good health come the centenary!

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

NRS Mentoring

Follow the link at nrs/taking-part to view the map of mentors, click on the pin to find out more about the species they cover and to contact them via email. All mentors are volunteers and numbers are relatively small, so please be patient and only contact them if you are interested in taking part in the NRS.

Acknowledgements The contribution of our nest recorders to conservation cannot be overstated; they are key to the work of the BTO. We’re extremely grateful to BTO/JNCC partnership for their support of the NRS on behalf of the Country Agencies, to the Dilys Breese estate and to Mark Cubitt.


F o c u s o n vo lu n t e e r s

You rock!

But what makes you tick? In 2013 we took the opportunity to work with Professor Katie Truss of Kent Business School and Dr Kerstin Alfes of Kingston University to study why you, our BTO volunteers, do what you do and how we might make your volunteering experience better. Some of the outcomes surprised us, now Ieuan Evans wants to know what you think of the It may sound obvious but, for an

better service to our volunteers so they

who provided us with a comprehensive

organisation like the BTO that relies

are more satisfied with their experiences.

summary report.

so heavily on the hard work and good

For these reasons, we worked with

will of volunteers, it’s really valuable to

our academic partners on an online

single biggest motivating factor for BTO

understand just why volunteers volunteer.

questionnaire which was emailed to all

volunteers is that you are concerned about

Understanding volunteer motivations could

volunteers. We were delighted to gather

conservation issues (Fig 1). You want your

help us to design more effective surveys

over 2,500 responses which were carefully

volunteering to have positive impacts

and schemes and allow us to provide a

analysed by our academic partners

for birds and to have benefits for the

It will come as no surprise that the

volunteer voices…

“It would be very helpful if the local coordinators of volunteer schemes held a meeting prior to each survey to brief participants – currently all done by email. This would also improve the social aspects of membership.” 8

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

F o c u s o n vo lu n t e e r s

volunteer voices…

“I would be keen to spend more time volunteering, not only to meet others but also to improve my knowledge of birds, so more regular events or some sort of buddy scheme would be great.”

Generally, BTO volunteers are not

environment. You are also keen to learn more about the environment through your

motivated to contribute because family

volunteering. Many of you like contributing

and friends volunteer or because others

to citizen science, but feeling important

close to you want you to volunteer. You

through your efforts is less central to

also don’t usually volunteer because

your experience – BTO volunteers don’t

it helps you work through personal

volunteer in order to enhance their self-

problems or because it helps with your


career, although I expect both of these issues are actually very important to

reasons to be helpful

some people within our supporter base. It was pleasing to see that levels of

It seems that one of the single biggest reasons that you generously give us your

motivation, satisfaction and engagement

time, is that it provides you with the

with the BTO were very high and that

opportunity to combine your passion

intention to stop volunteering was very

with volunteering. This should make us

low. We also scored highly on your

think more creatively about giving you

perceptions of the working environment;

Room for improvement

the chance to do your surveying in the

although we need to do better with staff

Personally, the most pleasing aspect of

places you’d most like to do your birding.

support in some areas, particularly since

this survey was the response we received

We were pleased that a high proportion

the level of support and respect you

to the final question – what one thing

of respondents said that surveying helps

experience has a direct effect on how

would you to do improve your experience

them to develop their birding skills.

committed and motivated you feel.

of volunteering with BTO? Over 1,600 of

A better understanding of what motivates different volunteers should help us deliver a better service to our supporters.

Fig 1: What motivates people to volunteer for BTO? 100 Low




% of total responses

David tipling delve

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Conservation issues

Citizen science

Positive impact for birds

Environment benefits

Improved understanding

Enhanced self-esteem


2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine


F o c u s o n vo lu n t e e r s

volunteer voices…

“I would like to attend workshops near to where I live on bird ID and how to count large numbers of birds. It would be fun to meet others doing GBW. Also I would like to know more about other surveys I could do…”

you responded to this particular question

group scheme akin to the RSPB’s but with

with positive feedback about your

a narrower focus on surveys – what do

experiences, or a suggestion for how we

you think?

might improve. Four groups emerged as

Along a similar vein, more training

key places where making changes could

courses delivered at a wider geographical

significantly improve the experience of

range of venues and, ideally, free of

our volunteers (Fig 2). I was surprised by

charge, was almost equally popular as

just how often you said you’d like more

a suggested improvement. We have

contact with other volunteers in your local

expanded our training programme

area. BTO has rather kept its distance from

considerably in 2014 but these courses

this sort of approach, preferring to support

are currently heavily subsidised by BTO,

local bird clubs in their efforts. I’d love to

and with our restricted funding we can’t

explore this in more detail to understand

deliver much more. Is there a place again

whether this appetite for more local

here for a more active network of local

contact is universal across our volunteer

groups which, in addition to providing

base, or is more strongly expressed by (for

a point of contact for members and

example) Garden BirdWatch participants.

volunteers, also delivers training and

Perhaps it is time for a radical change in

support to those who need it? What are

the way we work, even to consider a local

your views on this?

While birdwatching, ringing and nest recording can be a solitary activity, this research suggests a clear need for more opportunities to meet others.

We would all like more time to do our birdwatching and take part in surveys so

Fig 2: How can we improve your volunteering experience?

it would be easy to flippantly dismiss the ‘lack of time’ barrier, but I think there is an important strategic point here for BTO. By


carefully investing in our website, online systems and mobile apps to make it


easier for you to find the information you

% of total responses


need and to enter and view your data, we are making those processes faster and


more convenient to valuable volunteers who have limited time and, often, many


competing interests. It would also help 10

to address some of the obstacles raised in the fourth category ‘technical issues’.


Perhaps these results provide evidence to build a case for investing more heavily in


this aspect of our work. 4

a call for feedback


To my knowledge this is the first time we have looked in any detail at the things

0 More local contact

More/free training

More time for birding

Improvement suggestion

Resolve technical issues

which motivate or inhibit BTO volunteers, and I’d welcome any feedback on the results presented here directly to me at


BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

G e t t i n g i n vo lv e d

Now what? 3 things YOU can do…

You can make a contribution to BTO surveys wherever you are. You really can. And what’s more, every contribution does count, however insignificant you might think it is.

2. Pond dipping Do you pass a pond, river or canal on a regular walk? The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) isn’t just about counting thousands of waterbirds on windblown estuaries. If you can identify most of the birds you see on a local waterbody, then you can take part in this survey. Some of our commonest species, like Mallard, have

1. Nestling down

shown some worrying population changes over recent years and small, dispersed water bodies could hold significant proportions of these species, so the more of these areas we can cover, the more alert we can be to change. Visit to check if your local watery patch is registered. Get involved at

3. Go the full monty Are you a pretty good birder? Reckon you can ID most birds by sight and sound? Well how about giving yourself the challenge of a random Take one of our commonest garden birds: the Blackbird. In 2012 only two Blackbird nests were recorded in

FIG 1. The map shows counties (plus ROI and NI) for which fewer than ten nest records are received each year for Blackbird.

So, this spring, have a good look

region you’ve probably never been visits during the breeding season and

Yellow areas <10 records

record all the birds you can find. If

around your garden, local park or

your square has been covered before,

scrubby lane, poke your head into

you’ll be able to see how the species

one of those bushes (taking care to follow the NRS Code of Conduct) and let us know what you find. Anyone David tipling Dancy

and we’ll send you to a part of your to before. You only have to make two

Greater London, four in Bedfordshire and two in Dumfries and Galloway.

Breeding Bird Survey square? Sign up

Green areas 10+ records

contained within that square have changed over time. I know many of you will be motivated simply by the

can take part in our Nest Records

challenge, but even better is fact

Scheme and the results you collect

that data from this survey are used

could help inform us about serious

by the government, conservation

and urgent declines in species we

organisations and others as an

might be tempted to take for granted,

indicator of the health of our bird life,

like Blackbird (Fig 1) and other

the wider countryside and even of the

common garden birds.

quality of our lives!

Find out more at

Register today at

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine


B r e e d i n g B i r d S u rv ey

1994–2014 Two decades Twenty years ago there were seven times as many Turtle Doves breeding in the UK as there are today, and twice as many Starlings. We know, because in 1994 the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) was launched. Kate Risely tells us more about the changes BBS has tracked in the previous two decades.

We already knew that these birds, and many others, were in severe decline, as numbers had been monitored since 1962 by the Common Birds Census (CBC). However, we also knew that the CBC wasn’t always the best possible method of recording change. Surveyors selected their own sites, normally in lowland farmland or semi-natural sites, meaning that the trends weren’t necessarily representative of all habitats. Furthermore, the intensive fieldwork – ten visits to map all territories – meant that only a few hundred sites were covered every year. A more efficient way of monitoring these representative scale was clearly needed, and in 1994 the Breeding Bird Survey was launched. Has it been working? Twenty years on, we ask whether the plan to create a scientifically rigorous mass-

David tipling

worrying population changes on a large and

participation bird monitoring scheme was successful. The BBS has certainly increased

an impressive dataset; over 100,000 survey

More than monitoring

volunteer participation in bird monitoring;

visits have been made to over 5,000 sites,

Given the numbers above, we can

over 2,500 people survey a BBS square every

covering a wide range of habitats across

certainly say that data collection has been

year, ten times the number that took part

the UK. Continuity is important too; nearly

a success, and we are able to produce

in the CBC. BBS participation has increased

350 squares have been surveyed in every

national trends for 108 bird species as

steadily over the last 20 years, with dips due

possible year since 1994, and over half of

well as nine mammals. But a simple focus

to the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 and

those have been surveyed by the same

on trends hides the tremendous added

during the fieldwork for Bird Atlas 2007—11.

person over that time. This kind of dataset

value for research and conservation that

This large-scale participation is possible due

is a powerful and sensitive instrument for

these data provide. The initial focus was

to the manageable contributions by individual

picking up changes in bird populations,

on investigating farmland bird declines,

volunteers, who make two morning visits

particularly when linked to historic CBC data

and research identified causes of change

per year to their squares. These add up to

for many species.

including the link between winter cereal


BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

B r e e d i n g B i r d S u rv ey

of changeâ&#x20AC;Ś

Get involved with BBS

bird monitoring has established the principles underpinning the design of agri-environment schemes, which appear to have slowed, if not reversed, the decline in farmland bird numbers, and BBS data have been used to assess the effectiveness of the large-scale Entry Level Stewardship scheme and the impacts of the loss of set-aside. BBS trends have helped to designate birds such as Grey Partridge, Yellow Wagtail and Wood Warbler as high conservation concern, targeting action to protect these species. What is causing the changes? While farming practices remain one of the major causes of change in our agriculturally-dominated landscape, in recent years attention has also turned to the impacts of climate change on bird populations. BBS data have been used to document recent shifts in the distribution and abundance of breeding birds, and indicate how they might change in the future. Analyses of these trends has particularly linked them to the location

Turtle doves: TALE OF WOE

of wintering zones for migrants, leading

Turtle Doves have declined by 85% since 1994, according to BBS counts. In 1994, Turtle Doves were recorded on 10% of BBS squares; today they are found on just over 1% of surveyed sites.

the habitats used and climatic changes

to field studies in Africa to pinpoint driving declines. Large-scale changes caused by agriculture and climate are not the only processes investigated using BBS data. In 2005 Greenfinches were hit

The BBS could not succeed without the dedication of the many volunteers who take part in it each year. To find out more about BBS, the results, or to get involved visit The Breeding Bird Survey is run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and jointly funded by the BTO, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC, the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation, on behalf of Natural Resources Wales, the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

by trichomonosis, which was shown by BBS analysis to be causing the observed Over the last twenty years the large

stubbles and trends for farmland birds

population declines. Increasing deer

such as Skylark and Yellowhammer. BBS

numbers have been linked to declines in

and detailed BBS dataset collected

data have also been used to help design

woodland birds, such as Willow Tit, using

by volunteers has provided answers

experimental work on conservation

mammal data also collected from BBS

to many questions about changes in

measures and assess their effectiveness,

squares. Conversely, analysis of BBS data

bird numbers. We intend to carry on

leading, where successful, to further

has indicated that increasing Sparrowhawk

collecting data in the same way for the

conservation action including work by

and Grey Squirrel populations are not

foreseeable future, both for birds and

the RSPB to lobby government and

responsible for widespread declines in

other groups such as butterflies and

advise farmers on management. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been

songbird numbers, and that Cuckoo

mammals. The questions will change, but

suggested that this kind of action may

declines have not been caused by

the power of the data to answer those

have caused the recent slight upturn

changes in numbers of their host species,

questions will only increase the longer

in Tree Sparrow numbers. Long-term

as previously suggested.

the survey runs.

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine


F o c u s o n vo lu n t e e r s

BTO volunteers through Richard Bland

at answering: what is it that has caused the population changes that we have so

aged 77, BTO member for 50 years

meticulously recorded? Data mining would

“If I’ve learnt one thing in 50 years it is to do the same thing in the same way over and over again – then the changes will leap out at you.”

in the archives from the Winter Atlas than

be good too, there is far, far more data sitting was ever used, for example, and that goes for the Inland Observation Points of the early sixties as well. And, of course, we need to be far more European and international – it’s amazing what the Australian ornithologists

I’m a very ordinary birder – I hugely

and remember that, when that one was

admire the dedication of ringers, but I’ve

launched, everyone had said it would be

never done any; I’m astonished by the ID

impossible to check the breeding species

Then there’s technology. I have this

skills of the twitchers, but I’ve never seen a

in every 10-km square in Britain within five

vision of the day that I can lift my binoculars

rare bird; I am amazed by the patience of

years. We now have the ability to monitor

to a passing bird, press a button and, if it

the sea watchers, and the counting skills

change with great precision, so what can I

has been chipped, all its past will scroll

of the duck counters and estuary watchers,

expect in the next fifty years? Understanding

before me, a video camera will start to

and the ingenuity of the nest finders but I’ve

more about bird sounds would be a good

record its calls and activity. Then every

never done those things either.

place to start and I think we can learn from

detail of the sighting, with a ten digit map

the bat people; their quarry are not just

reference, will automatically be sent to

and I have spent 50 years tramping the

invisible, they are inaudible as well, but they

BirdTrack, to the Avon Bird Report, to the

streets of Bristol and the lanes of Avon

now have the technology to record the bats

Bristol Environmental Record Centre, to the

counting birds. I became fascinated by

automatically. Then there is ‘patchwork’.

Avon Wildlife Trust and, if appropriate, to the

urban birds: by sparrows, Starlings, Feral

Lots of us do it, and we know our patches

county bird recorder and the Rare Breeding

Pigeons and gulls, and the complex

very well, but this vast body of data is not

Bird Panel, and, of course, to my own

relationships between them – and

often published or used, and it holds vital

computer and be flashed up on my website.

between them and the equally complex

clues to the question we are not good

Now that would be my idea of heaven!

I started with a Starling roost at school,


habitat changes that human society created. And by this I mean rubbish tips, and black bags and wheelie bins, and gardens laid to lawn or decking, or filled Wilde/richard bland/LUKE DELVE

with bark mulch, or F1 hybrid plants. These are real habitat changes that have affected some birds. And if you can’t be bothered to count them, how will we know in 10 years’ time, what has changed? And everything does change, not just from year to year, but month to month and week to week. If I’ve learnt one thing in 50 years it is to do the same thing in the same way over and over again – then the changes will leap out at you, and the longer you do it, the more fascinating it becomes. It has been an amazing fifty years, just compare Bird Atlas 2007—11 with the first


House Sparrows and other urban birds and the problems they face have long fascinated Richard.

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

F o c u s o n vo lu n t e e r s

the ages

What was it that first engaged you with birdwatching and surveying? We asked two BTO volunteers what attracted them to the BTO and why they keep volunteering.

Findlay Wilde

Young bloggers to watch

aged 12, BTO member for 1 year

“I always seem to have a lot of questions to ask and there are always plenty of people to answer them or point me in the right direction.” The alarm goes off at 4am and

know everything there is to know about

anticipation starts to surge though my veins.

birds! Studying birds at home for the BTO

That’s how ringing mornings start for me.

Garden BirdWatch survey is helping me with

These early starts have so many benefits: the

this. This year I plan to be better at putting

ghostly shape of a Barn Owl hunting across

my records onto BirdTrack.

the fields, a Fox running across the path, a Hare kicking up its back legs, moths fluttering

Being a volunteer and member of the BTO

in the headlights, calmness, a Woodcock

is important to me, as it makes me feel like

flying off down the track and, of course,

I am helping in nature’s fight for survival. The

stunning sunrises.

tracking of birds is critical in this because it

I first became aware of the BTO at the

helps us understand their movements, their

BirdFair a few years ago, and it was great to

numbers and how they are coping in the

meet Andy Clements and the team properly

modern world compared to years ago. How

at the most recent fair. My opportunity to

amazing if one day I can invent a tracking

start ringing was in January 2013 when I was

device that fits inside each ring!

invited to join a session in south Lancashire.

When I am out volunteering I know I am

During that session I asked if I could go

part of something that can help to make

with them again and now they can’t get rid

a difference to the long-term protection of

of me! My ringing trainer has taught me so


much already but the most important thing

Common Blue Findlay Wilde: In his Wilde about Birds Blog, Findlay provides updates about his ringing, surveying and general bird and wildlife watching. He updates it regularly with news of his latest adventures and observations, check it out at Findlay has also contributed as a guest blogger on Mark Avery’s blog and is very active on twitter, you can follow him @WildeAboutBirds. Ellis Lucas: 12 year old Ellis already has a life list of 220 and his passion shines through in his blog Ellis’ Wildlife Walks at and his tweets @Ellisethanfox

he has told me is that the safety and welfare

Evie Miller: Evie is a trainee ringer, nest recorder and passionate wildlife enthusiast, catch her on http:// easyblog/blogger/listings/eviemiller and @ ev1e_miller

of the birds must always come first. I enjoy being a member of the BTO family because there are so many people with the same interests as me to talk to and help me. I always seem to have a lot of questions to ask and there are always plenty of people to answer them or point me in the right direction. For me birds are one of the most engaging parts of nature, they really stand out and I want to learn more and more about them. Where do they go? How do they get there? What do they eat? How do they interact with each other? I want to

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

Findlay shares his enthusiasm for birds through his blog. Ringing Jays was a recent highlight.

Toby Carter: Toby blogs about his wildlife encounters and runs a weekly wildlife quiz from his blog and twitter accounts, you can follow him at http:// and @TobyWarbler


citizen science Data from three BTO-led volunteer surveys was integral to the recently published research looking into the causes of deline in the House Sparrow population.

your time our experts : great science Much of the BTOâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s excellent reputation hinges on the long-term and high-quality datasets we hold say Viola Ross-Smith and Rachel Gostling. These data are largely gathered by a dedicated army of more than 50,000 skilled volunteers, contributing approximately 1.2 million hours per year to our organisation. While the results of a recent survey on volunteer motivations suggest that many participants in our surveys do so for enjoyment and to hone their field skills, we wanted to emphasise the value of the data collected and thank all our volunteers for this valuable resource for science and conservation. 16

As well as contributing to government indicators that are used to assess the health of biodiversity in this country and elsewhere across Europe, volunteer data are regularly turned into peer-reviewed publications by BTO ecologists. Such publications form the evidence base for both conservation and science, where, for example, they have been key to informing debate around climate change. Surveys work together to monitor Sparrows One of the most recent papers to be published provides a particularly good example of the value of the BTOâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s datasets. This paper, published in the journal Bird

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

Steven Round

At l a s s c i e n c e

At l a s s c i e n c e

Study, used data collected by volunteers participating in three BTO-led surveys, BTO

bird atlas 2007–11: beyond the maps

Garden BirdWatch (GBW), the Nest Records Scheme (NRS) and the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), to investigate changing House Sparrow population trends. British House Sparrow numbers have fallen sharply in recent years, leading to their inclusion on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List. Population trends are not uniform however, with greater declines in urban than in rural areas, and in eastern and south-eastern Britain than in other parts of the country (where the population is stable or increasing).  This study found that population trends were linked to measures of breeding performance. The House Sparrow is a multi-brooded species, making it difficult to establish the productivity of pairs over the entire breeding season. However, because House Sparrows are rather sedentary, it was possible to use weekly count data from GBW to derive a measure of chick production across the breeding season. GBW data showed that seasonlong productivity was highest in Wales and lowest in the east of England, but that there was no difference between rural and urban areas. The regional difference in GBW productivity was mirrored in the NRS data, which revealed that House Sparrow clutch and brood sizes were significantly lower in the east of Britain than in the west.  The number of breeding attempts per year and post-fledging survival did not differ between regions, so are not thought to contribute to the observed differences in population trends. Cut and dried solutions? Such studies are vital for generating and

The BTO raises funds from individuals, organisations and charitable trusts to support our survey work and examine research questions (such as our Winter Thrush Survey, investigating how thrushes use resources available in the countryside in winter). These funds also allow us to maximise the use of data that have already been collected by our fantastic volunteers (for example, a current piece of work looking at the wintering ecology of Blackcaps). Our latest appeal aims to raise money for an in depth analysis of the data collected by over 50,000 volunteers for Bird Atlas 2007–11. The wealth of information contained in this book has revealed huge changes in abundance and range for many bird species. It has also raised questions about why particular species, like Nuthatch, are thriving and expanding their range, while others, such as Willow Tit, are now virtually extinct in certain areas. Atlas data also allow us to look at groups of species for the first time. For instance, they tell us that the decline in farmland birds has slowed, potentially thanks to agri-environment schemes, but there is still real concern for woodland and upland birds. Ring Ouzel, Snipe and Whinchat are in trouble in Britain and Ireland, while Short-eared Owls are being lost in Wales and Scotland. The funds raised by our appeal will launch a major programme of research entitled Beyond the maps, aiming to investigate these complex changes and answer important conservation questions. We want to understand how and why

The Atlas revealed many things, including the continued northward spread of Nuthatch, but there is much left to learn.

species are shifting; are the distribution shifts in line with climate change or are there other explanations? Are we protecting the right areas for particular species? As more land is developed for housing, and towns and villages grow, what is it within these environments that determine the species we see? Learning more about what is important for species like House Sparrow, Swallow and Bullfinch could inform the planning of new developments and improve existing urban areas to make Britain and Ireland a better place for birds. Find out more Visit to find out more or to make a donation.

implementing effective conservation measures. In this example, we now have scientific evidence that productivity is an

of why population trends differ between

each year, coupled with targeted research

important part of the puzzle contributing

urban and rural areas. Here, other factors

work and one-off studies, provide a

to House Sparrow population trends. It’s

such as differences in food availability,

powerful tool for understanding population

not the whole story – ecology is rarely

could be important and our ecologists

change. Together they deliver the evidence

as cut and dry as physics or chemistry

might need the help of volunteer citizen

that supports conservation action and helps

but this highlights where further work

scientists to help explore and answer

to shape and assess policy. None of this

should be targeted. For instance, volunteer

these remaining questions.

would be possible without the partnership

and scientific effort could now focus on investigating the still unresolved question

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

The core monitoring programmes to which so many volunteers contribute

that exists between BTO researchers and the network of fantastic volunteers.


Lo c a l l i s t i n g

Andrena flavipes: one of many species of solitary bee, hard to identify!

Carabus granulatus: large and spectacular ground beetle, found under a plant pot.

Early Marsh-orchid was one of four orchids found in the square.

In 2013, BTO staff member Andy Musgrove, thought he would try to understand better the real meaning of biodiversity, and set himself a challenge: to see if it was possible in one year to find 1,000 species in his home 1-km square. In particular, he was keen to look for the common species that make up our biodiversity. His square contains part of a village with typical arable fields, roadside verges, a few small patches of recently planted woodland and, most significantly, an area of wet common with a stream, plus his house and garden, of course. Was 1,000 possible? Andy tells us how he got on. The list starts growing rapidly Most of the resident birds were rapidly added to the list in January. My 100th species appeared on 7 January; the larval ‘leaf-mine’ of the fly Phytomyza hellebori on a Stinking Hellebore plant. I spent some of these early weeks learning how to identify woodlice and millipedes, and struggling with mosses and

The BTO monitors the state of bird populations in the UK, not just for their own sake, but because we consider this gives us wider insights into the state of the environment. However, birds represent only a tiny proportion of the UK’s biodiversity. Although the true number is not accurately known, we have over 60,000 species of animals, plants and fungi. The recent State of Nature report, which collated trends across as wide a species range as possible, was only able to present information pertaining to about 3,000 of these species.

Photographs: andy musgrove. Follow Andy on @andymus1


Cionus scrophulariae: a striking weevil found on the stems of Water Figwort. BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

Lo c a l l i s t i n g

Horse-chestnut Leaf-miner is better known from its effect on the tree, but the tiny moth is stunning.

Broad-bodied Chaser is a widespread dragonfly, but seldom abundant.

Common Broomrape is a plant lacking in chlorophyll and depends on other plants for its nutrients.

lichens! Finding each new species became

All done by July?

number could be anything up to 5,000.

harder, and the 200th was not until 17

I could have stopped here, but instead pushed

There is an awful lot of wildlife out there.

February when I found a Lesser Stag Beetle

on, rapidly reaching 1,100 with an Alder

It’s fascinating, often stunning and there is

under a plant pot.

Spittlebug on 21 July. After a family holiday

a lot still to learn. It’s clearly not possible to

away, I got stuck in again and number 1,200

draw conclusions in terms of the BTO’s work

in 2013, but the cold air finally started to move

was the leaf-mining moth Phyllonorycter

from such a small area, but I like to think

away in mid-April. My 300th species was a

acerifoliella in a Field Maple leaf. Once the

it has given new perspective. When asking

splendid Red Kite overhead on 13 April, and

autumn hit, things slowed down but the total

“how is biodiversity doing”, we need to define

then the spring kicked in. Flowers started to

continued to mount and another leaf-mining

carefully what we mean.

open and insects emerged. It only took another

moth – Stigmella floslactella (on Hazel) - was

15 days to reach 400: Broad-leaved Pondweed

number 1,300 on 3 November. It really slowed

that, after mentioning the idea on Twitter,

in the stream. The hectic pace continued and

down in late autumn due to less daylight, but

a group of other people joined in with the

the 500th species was a Swift flying past

I spent a lot of time identifying some of the

challenge in their own 1-km squares. There

my house on 14 May, whilst the 600th was

more difficult insects I’d found earlier in the

was a fantastic sense of camaraderie and we

another plant, Small-flowered Cranesbill on

year. On a family walk on Christmas Day I

all learned a huge amount from each other.

a grass verge, on 25 May. The next couple

added Brambling and Roe Deer, and on New

In the end, 15 people passed the 1,000 total,

of months became a bit of a blur as insect

Year’s Eve, the fungus Birch Woodwart became

and more enjoyed having a go.

diversity increased rapidly and the next three

species 1,400. After a few late identifications,

A few more folk have taken up the baton and

milestones were all insects: the soldier beetle

the final tally was an astonishing 1,406

are getting involved in 2014. Why not think

Cantharis figurata on 8 June (700); a Clouded

species. Only 91 of these were birds, whilst

about trying something similar? The number

Silver in the moth-trap on 18 June (800); and

519 were moths and butterflies.

1,000 is not important, but with the wealth

There was an exceptionally late, cold spring

Finally, the best thing about the year was

of information publicly available now, it could

a Painted Lady butterfly on 30 June (900).

It sounds a lot of species, but one thing

Finally, the 1,000th species fell as I located

that had become apparent was how many

be a great time for you to teach yourself more

Greater Spearwort on the common on 9 July.

species I was overlooking; I expect the true

about biodiversity.

Troilus luridus: shieldbugs are relatively large and easy to identify

Mixed hawk-moths (Sphingidae)

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

Wild Clary is localised in south Norfolk.


WeB S The UK’s non-breeding population of Black-tailed Godwits has increased by over 400% in the last 25 years, although numbers have stabilised since 2005. It remains a very rare breeding bird.

A vital piece of the conservation jigsaw

some major wetlands. Many of these sites support internationally important numbers of birds so monitoring them is very important. If you can help with coverage, please contact the WeBS office via, or check www. for details of your relevant Local Organiser.

Every month thousands of Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) counters contribute to monitoring the status of wintering waterbirds in the UK. They play an important role in the conservation of the birds and the wetland habitats they use. Chas Holt, Neil Calbrade and Heidi Mellan explain more about WeBS and how easy it is for you to get involved.

Arctic breeding areas. If peaks of different species are summed, The Wash supports the

WeBS developments

most birds: averaging over 360,000 birds

The last year has been extremely busy for

each year and it is internationally important

WeBS. As well as 3,000 WeBS volunteers

for 17 species. However, the total number of

continuing to provide invaluable data, we

birds dependent on such sites will be more,

have changed how the outputs are reported.

as summing peaks does not take into account

In addition to a summary paper report, WeBS

turnover of migrating birds.

now publishes data via an interactive online interface at The

Assessing the health of the

online report features a section on Numbers &

UK’s protected sites

Trends (you can see species trends for different

The UK has international obligations to protect

countries and regions within the UK as well

its important numbers of non-breeding

filter tables by country, county and habitat) and

Millions of birds

waterbirds. The WeBS Alerts system identifies

sections on WeBS Low Tide Counts and the

WeBS monitors the status of the UK’s non-

changes in numbers across different spatial

WeBS Alerts.

breeding waterbirds in terms of numbers

and temporal scales, which allows us to

and trends at both a species and a site

assess a species’ status on Special Protection

level. This crucial information can be used

Areas (SPAs) (e.g. Fig 2) and Sites of Special

to understand what is driving population

Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The Alerts are

changes of waterbirds at coastal and inland

advisory, they can be used to direct research

wetlands. Each year, the survey counts several

and any conservation efforts needed.

million waterbirds. The UK’s estuaries support particularly large aggregations, both in winter

Help WeBS near you

and when birds are migrating to and from

We have vacancies for WeBS counters at


Acknowledgements WeBS is a partnership between BTO, RSPB and JNCC, in association with WWT. Above all, thanks to the volunteers who have helped WeBS over the years. Reference for new WeBS report Austin, G.E., Read, W.J., Calbrade, N.A., Mellan, H.J., Musgrove, A.J., Skellorn, W., Hearn, R.D., Stroud, D.A., Wotton, S.R. & Holt, C.A. 2014. Waterbirds in the UK 2011/12: The Wetland Bird Survey. BTO/RSPB/JNCC in association with WWT.

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014


You can get involved! Important UK wetlands needing WeBS counters now…

Humber Estuary (Yorkshire/Lincolnshire) Help is needed on the north side west of Hull and the south side near Tetney. The Humber supports a peak of 200,000+ birds and is internationally important for 13 species. A priority for WeBS recruitment. Colne Estuary (Essex) Help needed to cover this site. The Colne is of international importance for Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Black-tailed Godwit. Blackwater Estuary (Essex) Help needed on the north shore including Osea Island and Tollesbury area. Six species occur in internationally important numbers. Thames Estuary (Essex/Kent) Pressures from proposed developments means that thorough WeBS coverage of Thames Estuary is vital, including in the currently uncounted Foulness area. The Thames is internationally important for 11 species.

Medway Estuary (Kent) Help needed for most sectors. The Medway is internationally important for Avocet and Blacktailed Godwit. Swale Estuary (Kent) Four sectors require counters: Spitend Marshes, Grovehurst, Great Bells Farm and Capel Fleet. The Swale is of international importance for Teal, Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit. Helford Estuary (Cornwall) Two sectors require counters: Treath and Tremayne Quay. Severn Estuary (Gloucestershire/Somerset/ Glamorgan) There are several uncounted sectors in Gloucestershire and two sectors near Bridgwater. The Severn is internationally important for seven species. Conwy Estuary (Gwynedd) Help is needed for most sectors of the Conwy.


Clwyd Estuary (Clwyd) Help is needed for most sectors of the Clwyd. Ribble Estuary (Lancashire) The Ribble is internationally important for 15 species, but the area near Freshfield is currently uncounted. Morecambe Bay (Lancashire/Cumbria) Help needed within Morecambe Bay which supports 14 species in internationally important numbers. Tay Estuary (Fife) Three sectors of the Tay Estuary need counters. Middle Tame Valley Gravel Pits (Warwickshire) This site is nationally important for Tufted Duck, Pochard and Gadwall, but several of the gravel-pits are not covered. Carlingford Lough (Co.Down) Help needed to cover one of the key sites in Northern Ireland.

2. 20,000 – 30,000 30,000 – 50,000 50,000 – 75,000 75,000 – 100,000 > 100,000

Solway Estuary

Humber Estuary The Wash

Morecambe bay

Ribble Estuary

North Norfolk Coast

Dee Estuary

David Tipling

Somerset Levels

Fig 1. Largest waterbird aggregations. Wetlands supporting average annual peaks of 20,000+ waterbirds during 2007/08–2011/12. The red circles mark the top ten wetlands, all averaging 100,000+ birds. Some of the sites have sectors in need of WeBS counters – can you help?

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

Breydon Water & Berney Marshes Thames Estuary

Fig 2. Long-term (25 years) WeBS Alerts status at Special Protection Areas in UK. Each triangle represents an SPA; sized according to the net positive (upward green) or negative (downward red) Alerts status of waterbird species for which the SPA is designated. More red triangles in the north and west

indicates poorer WeBS Alerts status there, which could be associated with changes in waterbird distributions in response to climate change. However, the WeBS Alerts need to be examined on a site-by-site basis to ensure that local conservation issues are not overlooked. For more information, see the online Alerts report:


Wo o d c o c k s u rv ey 2013

Unlikely wader reveals


Back in 2003, the GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust) and BTO conducted the first national survey of breeding Woodcock, which provided the most accurate estimate of the UK’s resident population to date. Given the contraction in breeding distribution reported by Bird Atlas 2007–11, a ten-year repeat survey to measure change in breeding population size seemed timely. Thanks to the help of more than 800 volunteers, over 800 randomly selected sites were surveyed in 2013. Christopher Heward (GWCT) and Greg Conway (BTO) provide an insight into the preliminary results.

Unique displays

so, attract the attention of females. By

The conspicuous roding displays of male

recording the number of passes of roding

Woodcock offer a unique opportunity to

Woodcock in a given time, abundance

survey a species that is otherwise seldom

can be calculated.

seen. Until the 1970s, male Woodcock were believed to be territorial, but GWCT

survey coverage & site occupancy

radio-tracking studies revealed that

In 2013, 820 random and 135 additional

roding flights are more akin to aerial leks;

1-km squares were visited during the

rather than defining the boundary of an

breeding season. Surveys were widely

individual’s territory, flight lines overlap as

spread across the UK and, for the first

males compete for air-space and, in doing

time, included sites in Northern Ireland.

Wandering woodcock Amaze trackers

The GWCT is using satellite tracking to study the astonishing long-distance migrations of the Woodcock which visit Britain and Ireland in winter. Individuals can travel many thousands of miles to breed, and yet return to the same areas to winter. See for the latest results.

Naturally, coverage was greatest in areas with higher densities of volunteers (Fig 1),

putting Woodcock on the map 1.

but there was also reasonable coverage


in less densely populated areas, such as Scotland and Northern England. This broad coverage will be valuable to our analysis as there appears to be a large degree of geographical variation in Woodcock occurrence across the country. Nationally, roding Woodcock were encountered at just over one third of woodlands surveyed. The highest levels of occupancy were recorded in northern England, where more than two-thirds of woodlands surveyed were occupied. This is closely followed by eastern England (59% occupancy) and northern Scotland (45%). The lowest occupancy levels were recorded in Wales and southwest England

Fig 1. Woodcock presence and absence across 11 UK survey regions (shaded = present, white = absent).


Fig 2. Woodcock presence and absence at 955 surveyed sites across the UK (darker shaded = present, lighter shaded = absent).

(13% and 19% respectively) (Fig 2). This came as no real surprise as the southwest has traditionally only held small numbers

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 014

Wo o d c o c k s u rv ey 2013

of breeding Woodcock. The central south

occupancy on a site by site basis indicates

region (43% occupancy) and East Anglia

that occupied sites appear to be clustered

(48% occupancy) fared well compared

around areas where large wooded areas

to other southern regions, most likely

remain, such as the New Forest, Thetford

due to the availability of extensive, well-

Forest, the Forest of Dean and Kielder

connected woodland.

Forest, whilst losses of Woodcock seem most common in areas with patchier,

Change since 2003

Steven Round

Initial comparison with 2003 suggests

more isolated woodland. While confirming concerns raised

a decline in overall site occupancy of

by Bird Atlas 2007â&#x20AC;&#x201C;11, these initial

around 8% in the last 10 years. This ten-

conclusions are simply based on

year estimate suggests a range decline

presence or absence of Woodcock.

which is slightly less severe than that

Further analysis is currently under way

indicated by Bird Atlas 2007â&#x20AC;&#x201C;11 (29%

which will examine changes in Woodcock

over the last 20 years). There were

abundance since 2003 and to produce

differences in trends apparent between

new national population size estimates.

regions, however. The most severe

We will use Woodcock abundance change

decline was in south Scotland, where

at survey sites between 2003 and 2013,

there was a 21% reduction in the number

in combination with habitat information,

of occupied survey sites, whereas in

to examine potential causes behind

northern England there was an increase

different regional trends in Woodcock

of 18%. Examination of changes in

numbers and distribution.

2 014 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

Get involved

We are very grateful to the many volunteers who participated in the 2013 Breeding Woodcock Survey, which was funded by GWCT and BTO. We are also particularly grateful to the small band of Woodcock enthusiasts who have surveyed a site annually between 2003 and 2013. Annual counts enable us to monitor population trends with greater accuracy and help us better understand annual variation in Woodcock abundance and roding behaviour. Please do consider monitoring your site again in 2014; please go to woodcock-survey or contact Greg Conway for more details.


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BTO Volunteer magazine 2014