BTO and COVID-19
BTO and COVID-1921 May 2021
This statement was updated at 09:00 on 21.05.2021.
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.
Many countries revised their Covid guidance in mid-May and, for the first time since restrictions were implemented, several of the changes relate to relaxation of social distancing; as social distancing restrictions are not impacted by the ‘voluntary or charitable services’ exception, it is vital to ensure that volunteers in all countries are familiar with the relevant 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.
In England, social distancing is now considered a personal responsibility and is therefore advisory, rather than mandatory.
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. In Scotland, with the exception of Moray and Glasgow City, social distancing regulations have been relaxed in homes and private gardens but remain in place elsewhere. Note that the regions put in the more restrictive Level 3 are likely to change over time.
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
From 19 April 2021, all restrictions relating to travel, group sizes and social distancing within the Isle of Man have been lifted, meaning that volunteers can now resume survey activities outside the boundary of their place of residence. It is vital, however, that volunteers continue to consider the risks of their activities in relation to disease transmission, which are reduced as distances travelled and group sizes decrease, so lone/pair working undertaken locally is the ideal in this respect.
Public travel restrictions have been relaxed in Wales, and from 12 April 2021 onwards, it is now possible for everybody, including BTO volunteer surveyors, to travel throughout Wales and into England for the purposes of surveying. Groups of up to six people can meet outdoors, including in private gardens. It is not permitted to meet anyone from another household indoors in a private residence. This means that survey volunteers living in Wales can continue survey activities 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. Social distancing regulations remain in place in Wales.
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. Social distancing regulations remain in place in Northern Ireland.
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
From 10 May, volunteers in the Republic of Ireland are able to resume travel between counties for the purposes of survey work, including ringing or nest recording purposes. A maximum of either six people or three households can meet in private gardens, and a maximum of 15 people can meet in other outdoor spaces. In the Republic of Ireland, social distancing restrictions remain in place in most circumstances but have been relaxed for small groups meeting indoors where at least one party is fully vaccinated; check the government website for more details.
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)
- Woodcock Survey (https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/woodcock-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
Republic of Ireland: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/
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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Several tracking projects combine to determine the migration routes, wintering locations and breeding season movements of Welsh Curlew.
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Northern Ireland Seabird Coordinator Katherine Booth Jones describes her love for the wild coastal habitats of Northern Ireland and the charismatic seabirds that inhabit them.