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Natur Cymru Natur Cymru

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Cymru

New office in Wales at Bangor University

A full version of this article appears in the magazine.

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 BTO.

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.

Redstart (c) John Harding


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.

Garden Birdwatch

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.

Heronries Survey

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.

Ringing scheme

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 great care.

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 kelvin.jones@bto.org

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