A full version of this article appears in the
On 20th July 2011 the BTO launched its new
office in Wales. This will provide a national focus for research,
enabling the birdwatchers of Wales to inform Welsh Government
policy-making through the records they collect and submit to the
Through the volunteer network we hope to be able to answer
questions specific to Welsh birds. Think of Wales and what comes to
mind? Dippers, pied flycatchers, red kites and the awesome seabird
colonies off Pembrokeshire. By engaging with new volunteers
throughout Wales we can increase our knowledge of Welsh birds which
will allow meaningful independent data to be the cornerstone of any
conservation initiatives or policy.
The BTO has a number of core volunteer surveys. Fieldwork has
just finished for the Bird Atlas 2007-11. This ambitious project
builds upon the three previous atlases (two breeding season and one
winter), and seeks to record the distribution and abundance of all
the birds of Britain.
BirdTrack is a great way to record your daily birdwatching and
make your records available to the scientific community. It easily
allows you to record where you watch and more importantly what you
see, in an intuitive manner. It also helps you submit data to your
local bird recorder and keeps your sightings in a simple one-stop
shop for your records.
Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)
This major national survey measures the breeding populations of
land birds in the UK, year on year. Thousands of volunteer
birdwatchers make standardised counts during two visits to randomly
located sites (1km squares) during the breeding season: these
enable the monitoring of changes in numbers of over 100 widespread
bird species. BBS has now been enlarged so that volunteers can
enter both mammal and butterfly records if they wish.
A good example of the effectiveness of BBS is the 2010 index for
the amber-listed Redstart: its population reached the highest level
in Wales since this survey began in 1994. This is due perhaps to
above-average rainfall in their wintering area, the Sahel region
south-west of the Sahara. This increase in Redstart numbers is in
contrast to the decline in populations of pied flycatcher and wood
warbler, two other summer migrants which nest in our sessile
oakwoods. The figures also showed that 2010 was a good summer for
many other birds in Wales, with blackcaps, for example, showing a
22% increase over the previous year, and tree pipits and linnets
also showing an upward trend.
Observations collected by Garden Birdwatchers have charted the
decline of the house sparrow and rise of the woodpigeon, and have
alerted conservationists to the impact of an emerging disease in
greenfinches. There are currently 16,000 volunteers charting the
fortunes of garden birds in what is becoming a very important
habitat throughout Britain.
The UK’s longest running survey, having begun in 1928. The aim
is to collect annual nest counts of grey herons and now the
expanding colonies of little egrets. As top predators in the
freshwater food chain, both these species only thrive where there
is ample prey, and provide a valuable indicator of the health of
our freshwater environments.
Wetland Bird Survey
Located on some major flyways for Arctic nesting species, our
wetlands and estuaries attract large numbers of waterbirds,
especially during winter when they benefit from our relatively mild
climate. Following on from a tradition that began in 1947, around
3,000 volunteers regularly, on synchronised dates throughout the
winter, count all wetlands. These regular and systematic counts
help conserve these wetlands and the birds they support, fulfilling
both a moral and legal obligation to safeguard their futures.
The development of technology has today allowed tiny
satellite-linked transmitters to be fitted to the cuckoo (amongst
other species). In 2011 these are revealing the tracks taken by
cuckoos to their African winter homes. All ringers undertake a
rigorous period of training, in which the welfare of the bird comes
first. It requires a high level of commitment: demonstrations of
ringing are held routinely at reserves and Visitor Centres, as well
as taster sessions for potential new recruits.
Nest record scheme
Volunteer nest recorders count eggs and chicks in nests they
find. This allows the accumulation of vital data which show the
changes in breeding success from year to year. As with ringing, the
welfare of the birds is paramount and visits to nests are made with
Individually these are all important schemes, but when the data
are looked at as a whole, it gives a thorough and comprehensive
picture of what is happening with our birds. It is these data that
are invaluable to the decision-takers and policy makers.
KELVIN JONES is a lifelong birder and former
police officer who, for a great deal of his service, undertook
additional duties as a Wildlife Crime Officer due to his passion
for nature. He is a bird ringer concentrating particularly on
breeding raptors, winter waders and a ‘constant effort ringing’
scheme for passerines. He also chairs the Wales Rare Breeding Birds
and Raptor Study Group.
For further details of how to participate in any of the BTO’s
surveys visit www.bto.org and navigate to the volunteer
survey pages. If you would like a chat about taking part in any of
the surveys contact Kelvin at email@example.com