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The BTO London Bird Project

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London is a surprisingly green city and its many parks and open spaces are major contributors to urban biodiversity. Birds are the most frequently encountered urban wildlife, yet, despite their popularity (an estimated 75% of households provide food for birds in their gardens), little is known about the populations of birds in cities and suburbs. In addition, recent results from BTO monitoring data have indicated that a number of formerly common species have undergone worrying population declines in urban areas over the past 5 years.

London Bird Project: Blackbird photo by Tommy HoldenRESULTS

The BTO London Bird Project ran for two years, covering both summer and winter seasons from 2002-2004. 227 volunteers visited 301 green sites throughout the capital and collected an astonishing 50,000 lines of data on the birds and habitats.

The sites varied from 0.25ha–80.0ha and about 50% were classified as parks, although a very wide range of other sites were covered, including woodland, marshland, common land and cemeteries.

A total of 90 species were recorded, included 6 Biodiversity Action Plan species: Skylark, Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch, Linnet and Reed Bunting. Other interesting species included Lesser Whitethroat, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Black-necked Grebe and Firecrest. In all 6 visits Blackbird was the most widespread, occurring in, on average, 96% of sites. The next most common species were Wood Pigeon and Carrion Crow. Worryingly, House Sparrow, a species that has suffered dramatic and well-publicised population declines, was found in only about a third of sites.

Many species were found to be closely associated with broad-leaved trees and, more importantly, undergrowth, shrubberies and scrub. This mid-level habitat has been cleared from many sites due to a perceived public safety issue over the last couple of decades. The effect on bird species diversity and density is striking and affects many species, including House Sparrow, Song Thrush, Great Tit, Blackcap, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Magpie and Greenfinch. In fact one of the few species that prefers more open sites, is the project logo – the Pied Wagtail!

The full results of the BTO London Bird Project are available in a BTO Research Report (Number 384, Chamberlain et al. January 2005).

London Bird Project: Habitat management leaflet


One very important outcome of this project was the publication of a leaflet called ‘Managing habitats for birds and other wildlife in urban green spaces' . This is being made available to anyone with an interest in urban wildlife and, in particular, to the park and green space managers. Each habitat is looked at in turn and suggestions as to how to improve them for wildlife made. Although based on the BTO London Bird Project, and therefore on habitats in the capital city, this leaflet is relevant for all urban and suburban areas in the UK.
Click here to download a pdf copy of the leaflet or request a copy by emailing