The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS)


Welcome to the WeBS homepage. The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the UK. The principal aims of WeBS are to identify population sizes, determine trends in numbers and distribution, and identify important sites for waterbirds.  If you have any problems, please contact us.


This month's WeBS Core Count date: 18 January 2015

Winter is well and truly upon us and the UK's wetlands are heaving with a wealth of winter visitors. Major estuaries support large numbers of waders, while wildfowl will be building to a peak at important inland wetlands such as Ouse Washes, the Somerset Levels and the major reserviors. So far this winter has been extremely mild, but a period of frozen conditions on the continent may force waterbirds, including ducks such as Scaup and Smew, westwards. We are particularly keen to receive supplementary counts of Scaup this month as there is a coordinated count of Scaup being undertaken across Europe.  If you are a WeBS counter please provide any additional counts of Scaup as WeBS Supplementary Counts, otherwise via BirdTrack.  


January means IWC and a new Smew paper!

All January WeBS Core Count data contribute to the International Waterbird Census.  

The value of the IWC dataset as been well demonstrated this month through the publication of a collaborative paper on the changing distribution of Smew in Europe in relation to the Special Protection Areas and changing climate.

Many bird species are showing distributional change in response to global warming. Europe's winter population of Smew has redistributed north-eastwards due to milder winter conditions in the last 25 years. In the UK, a small population of typically less than 200 Smew (and in mild winters just a few dozen birds) can be found in winter at favoured gravel pits and reservoirs in lowland England. This UK population has approximately halved since the late 1990s.  New research compiled by scientists in 16 countries shows that Special Protection Areas (SPAs) scheduled under the EU Birds Directive, facilitate such distribution change across a species’ entire range.

“The UK data that contributed to this study were collected by the dedicated volunteers of the UK’s Wetland Bird Survey. The published results are an excellent example of how collaboration across a species’ range can generate outputs that are of direct relevance to its conservation” says Chas Holt of the WeBS team at the BTO.

“Currently, one third of the total population winters in north-eastern Europe, compared to 6% two decades ago. Furthermore, population growth rate in this region was also twice as fast inside EU Birds Directive’s SPAs compared to those outside over the last 25 years”, says Diego Pavón Jordán from the Finnish Museum of Natural History, lead author of the study.

Thus, well designed protected area networks can mitigate the effects of climate change on biodiversity by safeguarding high quality habitat as species adopt new distributions. These findings confirm that the existence of Special Protection Areas assists species to cope with climate change.  However, the results also highlighted severe gaps in the EU Special protection Area network, especially in northern parts of the wintering range. Many countries designated their SPAs more than 20 years ago, when no account was taken to accommodate such rapid environmental changes as we see now. More than eight out of ten Smew wintering in Latvia and Sweden do so in currently unprotected areas, and in Finland nearly all individuals winter outside the Special Protection Areas network.

A big thank you to all WeBS counters who collected data that contributed to this important work!


WeBS report: Waterbirds in the UK 2012/13

Search the interactive online interface to find latest information on status of the UK’s waterbirds and the wetlands used by them.  [If you experience any difficulties loading the page, please press "F5" or "Refresh" your page on screen using the relevant button in the browser bar. Recommended browsers are Google Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer v.9 onwards].  With a new colour report providing a summary of the results and other waterbird related stories, the new style ‘WeBS annual report’ provides an invaluable resource for anyone with an interest in waterbirds in the UK and beyond.

Browse Waterbirds in the UK 2012/13 online




WeBS helps in Sierra Leone

January 2014 saw a coordinated effort as part of the International Waterbird Census to count waterbirds at major wetlands along the length of the East Atlantic flyway that usually receive no coverage. This included expeditions to west Africa where waterbirds tend to be particularly poorly monitored. Important sites on the coast of Sierra Leone were counted by a small team of volunteers from the UK and colleagues at the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL). Support for this expedition was provided by the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative and WeBS. As well as collecting important information on numbers of birds at sites in Sierra Leone, the two-week trip included training of CSSL staff in waterbird monitoring methods and engagement with local communities. A full report will be published in due course.