Volunteer birdwatchers help monitor tiny migrant in Northern Ireland

01 Jul 2011 | No. 2011-28

Issued by BTO on behalf of BTO, JNCC and RSPB

Chiffchaffs are small yellow-green warblers, named after their song, which fly south for the winter but weigh just 9 grams. They are also the latest species to be monitored by the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in Northern Ireland, according to a report released today.

  Chiffchaff numbers have increased by
11% in Northern Ireland

Thanks to surveys made by volunteer birdwatchers, we are now able to calculate a population trend for Chiffchaff in Northern Ireland –numbers of this tiny bird have increased by 11% since the start of the survey in 1994. The closely-related Willow Warbler, however, has increased by 84% over the same time period, and is by far the most common of the pair in Northern Ireland. This is in contrast to the situation in England, where the amber-listed Willow Warbler is the rarer species of the two.

Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are just two of 30 species monitored by the BBS in Northern Ireland, and the latest figures show that other birds have shown declines, including the red-listed Skylark, which has declined by 36% since the start of the survey in 1994.

Kate Risely, BBS organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, commented, “We owe this knowledge of bird population trends to the dedicated volunteer birdwatchers who take part in the Breeding Bird Survey in Northern Ireland. Their records help us to build a detailed picture of how our bird populations are responding to environmental pressures. However, we need more volunteers in Northern Ireland, and would like to hear from any birdwatchers interested in the survey.”

Deborah Procter, Senior Monitoring Ecologist at Joint Nature Conservation Committee, added “The Breeding Bird Survey provides a rich source of data to help understand the conservation status of UK birds. UK population trends from the BBS enable us to investigate how species respond to multiple challenges, not only in the UK but further afield. This is illustrated in this year’s report by reference to the impacts of climate change on UK bird communities and to the perils that face migrants on their journey. Such knowledge helps government’s agencies and others target scarce resources to where conservation action is most needed.”

Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation Scientist in Species Monitoring and Research at the RSPB, said “The BBS tells us that many of our greatest conservation concerns are for common and widespread species, which we might otherwise take for granted. These BBS trends allow us to set conservation priorities and focus our research.”

Notes for Editors

  1. For a PDF of the full report visit www.bto.org/bbs/results/BBSreport10
  2. The Breeding Bird Survey is run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and is jointly funded by BTO, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) (on behalf of the statutory nature conservation agencies: Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage), and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
  3. The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a national project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species in the UK. The BBS involves over 2,500 participants who now survey more than 3,200 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of over 100 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.
  4. The information provided by the BBS provides a cornerstone for conservation action for birds in the UK. This survey forms an integral part of the Government’s Quality of Life indicators.
  5. This important survey is carried out by volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK, who receive no financial reward or expenses for their efforts. We are indebted to them for their tremendous support.
  6. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk, Stirling and Bangor, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact information

Kate Risely
(Breeding Bird Survey Organiser)
Office: 01842 750050
Email: bbs [at] bto.org

Shane Wolsey
(BTO Ireland Officer)

Mobile: 07831 697 371
Email: shane.wolsey [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am-5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Grahame Madge
(RSPB Media Officer)

Office: 01767 693221
Out of Hours: 07702 196902

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2011-28

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