BTO and COVID-19
BTO and COVID-1906 Apr 2021
This statement was updated at 17:00 on 06.04.2021.
Volunteers can currently undertake surveys in most/all parts of the UK so long as they are careful to follow relevant guidance. See below for further information relevant to your geographic area.
The spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is having a significant impact on our lives and is likely to continue to do so over the coming months. BTO is taking this threat seriously, with utmost concern for the health and well-being of our staff, volunteers and members, and those landowners and communities with which we interact.
It is vital that our staff, volunteers and members follow the latest government advice in order to prevent the spread and transmission of infection. The monitoring work undertaken by BTO staff and volunteers makes a valuable contribution to society and to their own mental well-being, but these are exceptional times and the government advice provides the framework by which we should direct our activities. People across society are having to make sacrifices, and it is important that we, as volunteers, do our bit by following government advice and supporting the efforts to bring an end to this pandemic. Although volunteer fieldwork has been and continues to be disrupted, BTO staff are working hard to maximise the scientific value of the data that can be collected.
The health of yourselves and your families and friends is important. If you or those close to you are impacted by the virus, we wish you a swift recovery. Whether you are entering old birdwatching records from your notebooks into BirdTrack, or are watching or recording the birds as permitted locally, please stay safe and keep well.
BTO offices and working arrangements
We have put steps in place to minimise disruption to our work and core charitable activities and have produced a risk assessment (PDF 823kb) for our offices. Please note that our staff are mostly working from home, but can be contacted by email or through our website. We have also put in place mechanisms to enable people to contact the BTO over the telephone. Our online sales operation remains open, and we will continue to receive and fulfill orders placed through our website, as permitted by the legislation.
Participating in BTO surveys
BTO’s senior leadership team continues to review published legislation, government guidance and other relevant advice for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland. We also continue to consult with JNCC, the relevant Statutory Agencies or responsible bodies, and NGO partners about the implications for our volunteer surveys. We advise all volunteers to carry a copy of this guidance with them when surveying to help explain to others what they are doing.
It is vital to understand that the guidance presented here represents the latest interpretation of the legislation received by BTO from the relevant government departments. The exemptions regarding leaving the home are, for example, dependent on the activity being undertaken qualifying as a ‘reasonable excuse’. There is always a risk that what may qualify as such to one ‘relevant person’ (e.g. a police officer) may not be considered reasonable by another. For your own benefit, both in terms of disease transmission and avoiding receipt of sanctions from the authorities, we therefore urge volunteers to carefully assess the risks posed by their fieldwork and to minimise travel and group sizes even in countries where these aspects of fieldwork may not technically be constrained by the legislation.
BTO volunteers in England can carry out fieldwork under the ‘voluntary or charitable activities’ exemption. This means that survey volunteers can continue survey activities within England without restrictions on the distances travelled or group sizes involved.
This element of the legislation does not impose specific restrictions beyond the need to maintain social distancing. It is, however, vital that volunteers consider the risks of their activities in relation to both disease transmission and sanctions being imposed by the authorities, noting that interpretation of guidance by the latter may vary from region to region. Both risks are likely to increase with the distance travelled and the size of the group undertaking the activity, so lone/pair working undertaken locally is the ideal in this respect. If you are in a location where you are conscious of heightened risk (e.g. active testing for a new variant is ongoing), please exercise extreme caution.
We have provided a letter for volunteers in England to carry with them stating that they are carrying out survey work for the BTO under a specified exemption.
BTO volunteers in Scotland can carry out fieldwork under the ‘voluntary or charitable activities’ exemption. This means that survey volunteers can continue survey activities within Scotland without restrictions on the distances travelled or group sizes involved. As for England (above) however, volunteers are advised to carefully assess the risks of disease transmission in relation to relevant BTO guidance, the best practice Forestry Industry Safety Accord (FISA) guidance, and Scottish Outdoor Access Code guidance.
The Scottish Government has requested that we provide a letter for volunteers to carry with them stating that they are carrying out survey work for the BTO under a specified exemption.
Isle Of Man
The Isle of Man entered a circuit break lockdown on 3 March 2021. Members of the public are only permitted to leave their homes or travel for a limited range of defined purposes. While one of these purposes is to take exercise, the steer from the government since the start of the pandemic has been that BTO surveys are not classified as such. At the current time, all volunteer survey activities, including ringing and nest recording, must therefore be restricted to areas of land falling within the boundaries of the property in which you reside.
From Saturday 27 March there are no limits on travel in Wales, though non-essential travel to and from other UK nations will be banned for at least two weeks. Six people from two Welsh households are able to meet up outdoors, including in private gardens. This means that survey volunteers living in Wales can continue survey activities within Wales and are not restricted in the distance they can travel to and from their field sites, though they must continue to adhere to government guidelines on group sizes.
From 7 April 2021, BTO volunteers in Northern Ireland can carry out fieldwork under the ‘voluntary or charitable activities’ exemption. This means that survey volunteers can conduct survey activities within Northern Ireland without restrictions on the distances travelled or group sizes involved.
The Northern Ireland Government has requested that we provide a letter for volunteers to carry with them stating that they are carrying out survey work for the BTO under a specified exemption.
Republic of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland, members of the public are currently only permitted to leave their homes or travel for essential purposes, and none of the specified exemptions pertain to volunteer survey activities.
Jersey are following the COVID-19 Stage 4: reconnection roadmap from 15 March.
As of Monday 22 March 2021, the Bailiwick of Guernsey is in Stage 3 of lockdown.Stage 3 sees a return to a normal level of activity within the Bailiwick, with social and recreation activity able to take place.
Specific survey guidance
In a normal year the following surveys would be operating at this time of year. Please see the individual scheme pages or email correspondence sent out by scheme organisers for guidance relating to each survey. BirdTrack can continue to be carried out during permitted daily exercise.
- Ringing Scheme (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/ringing)
- Heronries Census (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/heronries-census)
- Breeding Bird Survey (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/bbs)
- Waterways Breeding Bird Survey (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/wbbs)
- BirdTrack (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/birdtrack)
- Nest Record Scheme (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/nrs)
- Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/wetland-bird-survey)
- Hen Harrier Roost Survey (volunteers will be contacted)
- Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/breeding-waders-wet-meadows)
- Mountain Hare Survey (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/volunteer-mountain-hare-survey)
Survey work and coronavirus
No volunteer should undertake survey work if displaying symptoms of Covid-19, however mild, isolating as a result of previous symptoms, living with a household member who is either displaying symptoms or isolating, or if asked to remain at home due to the results of any ‘track and trace’ activity. If volunteering is undertaken, volunteers should follow all government guidance in their geographic region, and maintain social distancing and appropriate health and safety procedures at all times. The latest guidance, including that on any travel restrictions or group size restrictions, should be consulted for the relevant part of the UK before engaging in any survey work.
The health of our volunteers is very important to us, as are our relationships with the landowners who so generously allow us onto their land. No volunteer should feel under pressure to carry out fieldwork if they do not feel comfortable doing so, or if they are concerned about the impacts of carrying out survey work on relations with landowners or other members of the public. Please be sensitive to the feelings of landowners and your impact on local communities at this time and help foster good relationships with local communities for the future. Inconsiderate actions will be damaging for all of us. As with all fieldwork, please ensure that you have appropriate landowner permission to visit.
Northern Ireland: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19
Isle of Man: https://covid19.gov.im/
Bailiwick of Jersey: https://www.gov.je/Health/Coronavirus/Pages/index.aspx
Bailiwick of Guernsey: https://covid19.gov.gg/
The BTO Team
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