BTO and COVID-19

BTO and COVID-19

23 Jul 2021

BBS volunteer. Photograph by David Tipling

This statement was updated at 18:00 on 23.07.2021.

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) has had a significant impact on our lives, and on the monitoring and survey work to which we contribute. It is likely to continue to have an impact on our activities over the weeks and months ahead. BTO has continued to take the 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 continue to 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, continue to do our bit by following government advice and supporting the efforts to bring an end to this pandemic. Although volunteer fieldwork has been disrupted, BTO staff have been working hard to maximise the scientific value of the data 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 under the guidance operating where you live, 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 most of our staff are still working from home, but can be contacted by email or through our website. We have put in place mechanisms to enable people to contact the BTO over the telephone and our online sales operation remains open.

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. 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.

We have now entered a phase where many countries are now opening up, with changes to the relevant legislation around social distancing and household mixing. However, given the potential risk of the spread of new variants, guidelines could quickly change again and there is likely to be greater onus on individuals to be responsible for minimising risk to themselves and others.

England

BTO volunteers can continue survey activities within England without restrictions on the distances travelled or group sizes involved.

Volunteers should still consider the risks of their activities in relation to disease transmission. 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 from July 19th, social distancing and the use of masks is considered a personal responsibility and is therefore advisory, rather than mandatory.

Scotland

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.

As of 19th July, the whole of Scotland was placed in Covid Protection Level 0. This means that:

  • up to eight people from up to four households can meet indoors at home
  • up to 10 people from up to four households can meet in a public indoor space
  • up to 15 people from up to 15 households can meet outdoors – whether in a private garden or public place (children aged 12 and under not counted).

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 could 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.

Wales

Wales moved to Covid Alert Level 1 on 17 July and, it is now possible for everybody, including BTO volunteer surveyors, to travel throughout Wales and into England for the purposes of surveying. There are no limits on how many people can meet outdoors in public places, while up to six people can meet indoors and in private homes. 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.

Northern Ireland

From 7 April 2021, BTO volunteers in Northern Ireland have been able to 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. Further easing of restrictions will be introduced on 26th July.

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 were able to resume travel between counties for the purposes of survey work, including ringing or nest recording purposes. From 19 July, fully vaccinated people can visit together indoors with no limit on numbers, but there are limits on numbers where individuals have not been fully vaccinated. Outdoor organised events can take place with up to 200 people in attendance; check the government website for more details.

Jersey

Jersey has delayed the introduction of the COVID-19 Stage 7: reconnection roadmap and is currently at an interim stage to stage 6 of the roadmap.

Guernsey

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. 

Survey work and coronavirus

No volunteer should undertake survey work if displaying symptoms of Covid-19, however mild, if isolating as a result of previous symptoms, or if isolating because of having been contacted by track and trace. 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.

Useful links

England: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus / https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/364/contents/made

Wales: https://gov.wales/coronavirus

Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/

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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