Changing Times

This appeal is now closed. Many thanks to all who supported it.

Answering the ‘what’s happening?’ questions of the day is at the centre of BTO science when it comes to birds. That was true 80 years ago when the trust was formed and it remains our core purpose today.

We certainly understand many things better – the role of winter stubbles in maintaining farmland bird populations, for example – but we keep putting additional pressure on wildlife in our crowded land, and being surprised by the consequences.

There are many changes taking place, particularly in the south and east of the country, where some species, such as Willow Tit, are heading for local extinction while others, like Blackcap, are booming. Spotted Flycatchers are now missing from much of Greater London and large areas of Essex, House Sparrows in London are down by 69% and Blackbirds by 22%, despite increasing everywhere else. Declines are happening across a range of seemingly unconnected habitats, from the loss of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker from much of East Anglia’s woodland and reduced numbers of species, such as Yellow Wagtail, associated with wet grassland.

We want to understand why these changes are taking place and BTO long-term datasets are the key to unlocking some of these mysteries. We have a mass of evidence from our wide range of surveys – Breeding Bird Survey, Bird Atlas 2007-11, Nest Record Scheme, Ringing, Garden BirdWatch and BirdTrack –  which show how bird populations are changing but what we need to find out now is why?

A donation from you could help us to discover why changes are taking place

Your donation will fund time to really interrogate this wealth of data to see if there are some common causes. Scientists have done this before, highlighting the insidious effects of DDT on birds of prey fifty years ago and pin-pointing the key role that winter stubble fields play in the lives of farmland birds twenty years ago. 

While gaps in distributions are appearing in the south and east, looking at the data should help us to spot where species are starting to thin out and predict where gaps may appear in the future. This knowledge will be vital as we work with other organisations to conserve species, while there is still time to make a difference.