Regional Network miniseries Part 1. Photo by David Tipling

Why become a BTO Regional Network volunteer?

Stephen Metcalfe, Nick Hilton and David Kennett

BTO Regional Network volunteers

Relates to projects

Anyone familiar with the work of BTO will know that volunteers are the backbone of what we do. Thousands of people give generously of their time and skill to help with a huge range of surveys across the UK. 

What many people may not realise is that we get a vast amount of support from what we call our Regional Network. This is made up of volunteers who represent BTO at a regional level whilst also acting as the first point of contact for their local volunteer surveyors.

  • Regional Representatives act on behalf of BTO in a given region. They may take on the organisation of one or more of the surveys, or they may help individual Local Organisers with their work. 
  • Local and Regional Organisers act for one survey in a region, coordinating existing volunteers and finding new ones, and verifying survey data. 
  • Regional and Garden BirdWatch Ambassadors promote BTO in their area, highlighting the work we do and how people can get involved.

In the first of our Regional Network blog miniseries, we speak to Stephen, Nick and David about why they started volunteering and the changes they’ve seen since then.

Stephen Metcalfe: Regional Representative (Lothian)

Although I have been a keen birder since I was a boy, I didn’t start volunteering for BTO until 2014.

I offered to become the Regional Representative for the area in 2019 when my predecessor wanted to step down. At the time I was looking for a voluntary role where I might contribute to something I believed to be important. The work of BTO, providing the science behind much that is changing in the natural world, made the role very appealing, despite my total lack of any scientific background.

The role itself is primarily promotional and administrative. I administer the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and the Heronries Census locally, and I liaise with the local BTO/RSPB/JNCC Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) organisers and Garden BirdWatch (GBW) Ambassador. The amount of time this takes up varies over the year, with my busiest period being between March and July. The sheer variety of habitats and species in the various surveys run by BTO and its partners makes volunteering particularly rewarding. 

Whatever your knowledge and experience (and I certainly do not regard myself as being an expert ornithologist), there is probably something everyone can do to contribute towards BTO’s science. My role involves matching people’s experience and knowledge to an appropriate survey.

In everything I’ve done so far as Regional Representative, I know I can count on the support and advice that I have had from the BTO Scotland office. Their help has been invaluable, and I am sure that anyone thinking of applying to be a Regional Representative could expect to receive all the help they might need to take on the role.

Whatever your knowledge and experience, there is probably something everyone can do to contribute towards BTO’s science. Stephen Metcalfe, BTO Regional Representative (Lothian) 

David Kennett: WeBS Local Organiser (Isle of Man)

My predecessor was an eminent ornithologist with a huge knowledge of the island and its birds, but had been seeking a successor for some time. I’m only an average birder but after confessing that I had done a BBS square before moving to the island, I was persuaded to volunteer as Regional Representative and Local Organiser for BBS in 2017, and as WeBS Local Organiser in early 2019.

When I started, regular WeBS counts were carried out at just six sites. After I promoted the survey at evening meetings of our local bird club (Manx Ornithological Society), and with much help from our Regional Ambassador (also conveniently our bird club secretary!), there was considerable interest in taking part. 

By 2020, with the enthusiasm of several new counters, the number of surveyed sites had increased to 19, including two harbours and many inland waterbodies. By 2021 the number had increased again to 24, and by the end of 2022, 15 counters were covering 34 sites. As WeBS Local Organiser this sort of progress is naturally very rewarding, and it’s always fascinating to see what is being recorded every month all around the island. 

Since becoming WeBS Local Organiser I’ve had a huge amount of help and encouragement from the WeBS team at Thetford, especially from Counter Network Organiser Gill Birtles. In a similar way, I always feel it’s so important to acknowledge the effort and commitment that our counters put into their sites. Dealing with queries, setting up new sites and counters and checking data are all part of a Local Organiser’s work, and I like to think that a big “thank you” at the end of each reporting year should be a part of it too.

Point of Ayre National Reserve. Manx BirdLife
Point of Ayre National Reserve, one of the key WeBS sites on the Isle of Man. Manx BirdLife

Nick Hilton: Regional Representative (Manchester)

When I was asked to contribute to this blog I wasn’t sure what the readers’ expectations would be. Being a Regional Representative for BTO isn’t normally a thrill-a-minute, roller coaster ride of events. However, it can be a very satisfying role, and ultimately it gives me as an individual a sense of making a positive difference.

The previous Regional Representative for the Manchester region posted his intentions to hand over the role on our local Manchester Birding Forum in July 2014. As of November 2014, nobody had come forward to offer their services and it was beginning to prick my conscience. Having been a member of BTO since 2000 and involved with both BBS and WeBS for many years, I felt it was important to collect survey data and believed the data made a difference to outcomes in our natural world. I am no scientist, political leader (thankfully!) or person of influence, but what I can do is identify birds, count them and organise others to do the same.

I took on the role in late 2014 after discussing it with Dawn Balmer, and completing a simple application process. Dawn has always been and continues to be totally supportive. She holds the keystone role of Head of Surveys at BTO and, for us Regional Representatives, is usually our first port of call for any queries. I also benefit from the support of the WeBS Local Organiser for Manchester, Tim Wilcox.

Ultimately, I like to think I’m playing a very small, active part in understanding and conserving our natural world. If you can identify birds and count them, you can record this information with BTO. Even better, if you can organise others to do the same, become a BTO Regional Representative!

If you can identify birds and count them, you can record this information with BTO. Even better, if you can organise others to do the same, become a BTO Regional Representative! Nick Hilton, BTO Regional Representative (Manchester) 

Join our Regional Network

Do you love your local Herons? Enjoy chatting with your local birding network about how they can help? Are you familiar with the Breeding Bird Survey and know your area well? Or are you mad for ducks and waders and want to help with the Wetland Bird Survey? 

If the answer to any of these is “Yes!”, then we’d love to hear from you. There are vacancies in the Regional Network across Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. 

BTO is here to help and we have staff across the four nations, as well as Survey Organisers, all happy to give help and support whenever needed. 

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