News from the Northern Ireland Birdwatcher's Conference

News from the Northern Ireland Birdwatcher's Conference

11 Nov 2022

Barn Owl. Gray Clements / BTO

The BTO Northern Ireland Birdwatchers' Conference showcases bird research, monitoring, and conservation work undertaken in Northern Ireland and further afield. This year's conference brought together speakers from BTO, Conservation Detection Dogs Northern Ireland, Ulster Wildlife, Copeland Bird Observatory, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and more for a day of talks and birdwatching at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre.  


Introducing Ripple NI

Discover BTO's pilot engagement programme in Northern Ireland.

The birding community in Northern Ireland contributes hugely to our understanding of how bird populations are changing, through their participation in a range of BTO-led schemes and surveys. The annual conference is a fantastic opportunity to say a huge thank you to all of the volunteers, and to showcase how their data is improving our understanding and making a difference.

The conference was organised by BTO's Ripple Project Officer, Sorrel Lyall, with support from BTO's country offices. Sorrel has recently joined BTO Northern Ireland, and will be delivering BTO's exciting pilot engagement programme, Ripple NI. This project's focus is in making nature accessible to everyone, so Sorrel was delighted to see both old and new faces attending the conference and to meet more of the NI birding community - particularly many other young people, as well as a number of participants who hadn't been to a BTO event before.

This was the first major event that Sorrel has organised since joining the team in August, so the BTO team enjoyed being there to share and celebrate her success!

It was wonderful to meet and thank many of the volunteers, including the vibrant Regional Network in NI, and also to thank Stephen Hewitt (outgoing Engagement Coordinator) for all that he achieved while in the role. Ben Darvill, Head of Development and Engagement 

Belfast's Unsung Seabird

Dive into the story of Belfast Lough's wintering Eider, and discover how we used WeBS data to uncover its status in this bustling waterbody.

Talks from BTO included updates on our science and engagement work in Northern Ireland, as well as a report about the BTO/RSPB/JNCC Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) from WeBS Manager Teresa Frost

Northern Ireland wetlands are vital habitats for Irish waterbirds, particularly wintering diving duck species like Eider. Recent collaborative research from BTO and MarPAMM used WeBS data to improve our current knowledge of Eider numbers and distribution in Belfast Lough, and to investigate their movements through daylight and tidal cycles.

Many WeBS volunteers attended the conference, including staff from DAERA and WWT Castle Espie who lead some of the bigger site counts. Teresa was able to put their results into the 'bigger picture' context of our work, as well as showcase the magnitude of data available to explore on WeBS Report Online

There couldn't have been a more suitable location either; the Discovery Centre is located on National Nature Reserve Oxford Island, which is a favourite spot for many waterbirds, so there were plenty of birds to see during the lunch break and afternoon walk. 

I was particularly proud of the many ways in which BTO science and data - largely collected by our volunteers - are being used to support evidence-based environmental policy in Northern Ireland, and to help secure the future for birds and nature. Katherine Booth Jones, Operational Lead (NI) and Senior Research Ecologist 
BTO staff at the NI Conference 2022.
BTO staff at the Northern Ireland Birdwatchers' Conference. From left to right: Teresa, Chris, Ben and Katherine  

Meanwhile, BTO Youth Representative Benjamin Jamieson delivered an update on our youth engagement work in Northern Ireland. 

Many volunteers were especially pleased to see a wide diversity of attendees and recognised BTO's efforts to bring in new volunteers and inspire younger people to get involved, and this was reflected in the enthusiastic response to Benjamin's talk; many organisations attending expressed their interest in developing their engagement with young people, motivating Benjamin in his work for the BTO Youth Engagement Strategy. 

Other BTO faces included Associate Director (Country Offices) Chris Wernham, Head of Development and Engagement Ben Darvill and Senior Research Ecologist Katherine Booth Jones. All were pleased to meet BTO's Northern Ireland supporters face-to-face after a two-year hiatus of in-person gatherings due to COVID-19. 

I always come away from the conference with a renewed realisation of why I love my job so much, and of how much BTO owes all these amazing supporters for their time and skills. Chris Wernham, Associate Director (Country Offices)  
"We come as ornithologists …To recognise … Where science ends and love begins. "The Ornithological Section”. Michael Longley, Collected Poems, Cape Poetry 2006

The conference was also privileged to hold a workshop by poet Mary Montague, exploring the connections between birds and poetry. Many attendees joined Mary to read and discuss poems such as The Throstle by Alfred Lord Tennyson and The Wren by Michael Longley, one of Northern Ireland's best-loved poets. Although the arts and sciences are often presented as diametrically opposed fields, Mary believes that they are united in their capacity to affirm our knowledge of birds, and that each offers a different kind of avian experience.

Mary's workshop continued a theme of BTO's work which aims to engage new audiences with nature through art, and includes previous work such as Flight Lines, Red 67 and Into the Red.

Participant Voices

"The presentations were all high quality and fascinating. From loveable conservation detection dogs to ugly barn owl chicks, the growing number of eider ducks in Belfast Lough to the poetry of birdsong - I left with plenty of anecdotes to share with the family."  Stephen Trew, BBS and GBW volunteer

"Thanks to the whole team for a great day on Saturday. The talks and hospitality were both terrific.Claire Hassan, Regional Representative for Derry~Londonderry

"Thanks to BTO and speakers for a great day at your ever-popular conference. As usual, the talks were full of new important environmental information, and it was nice to get out for the walk around - Oxford Island is one of my favourite birding places. Thanks also to Pauline and the staff for giving us a lovely lunch.Dot Blakely, WeBS volunteer

"I really enjoyed the day. The talks were very good and the subjects were very enjoyable - particularly the talk on dog detection. It was great to spend company with people passionate about protecting and preserving our birds." John Fraser, RSPB volunteer

Full Programme

  • Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) in Northern Ireland - Teresa Frost, BTO
  • The use of detection dogs for avian conservation - Caroline Finlay, Conservation Detection Dogs Northern Ireland
  • The use of drone technology for heronry surveys - Karl Partridge
  • The Barn Owl story in Northern Ireland - Katy Bell, Ulster Wildlife
  • Copeland Bird Observatory - Roisin Kearney
  • NIEA partnership with BTO - Richard Gray, NIEA
  • BTO Northern Ireland Science and Engagement update
  • BTO Youth Engagement update - Benjamin Jamieson

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