Review of the year - 2011

What a year 2011 was for the BTO, with exciting new initiatives, numerous high quality reports and papers and ground-breaking science.  BTO membership grew to over 15,000 for the first time and over 18,000 volunteers helped bring fieldwork for Bird Atlas 2007-11 to a close. It’s hard to pick highlights, but here are a few areas in which we feel our work made a particularly important contribution.


Bird Atlas Map for Little Egret 07-08 and 10-11

Bird Atlas 2007-11 Fieldwork: Done!

2011 saw the culimation of four years of fieldwork for the massive Bird Atlas project. To date, 225 million birds of 578 species have been recorded, based on 182,061 TTVs, 4,269,550 Roving Records, and 4,480,417 BirdTrack records from 17,204 online users. The level of coverage acheived for this national Atlas of wintering and breeding birds has been quite exceptional and the Atlas team has already turned its attention to analysing the results and producing the final book which is due for publication in August 2013.  

Nest Recording boost

Over 500 volunteer nest recorders collect data that are used to produce trends in breeding performance, which help us to identify species that may be declining because of problems at the nesting stage. Nest Record Scheme data also allow us to measure the impacts of pressures such as climate change on bird productivity. In 2011 more record cards were returned early, allowing us to produce preliminary trends for 18 species compared with 9 in 2010. We also published the all new Nest Monitoring Guide which we hope will inspire lots more Nest Recorders to take up the hobby in 2012.


Short-eared Owl by Amy Lewis

Short-eared Owl by Amy Lewis

2011 was a brilliant year for migration research at the BTO.  Not only did our Cuckoo work yield spectacular results, but we also made progress on other tracking studies, including tagging enigmatic Nightjars and seabirds.

Peer-reviewed papers were also published on migration in several species, including Grasshopper Warblers, showing the importance of sites in North Africa for this species, and Short-eared Owls, using ringing data to demonstrate different migration patterns during the 20th Century.  

Dramatically, our scientists also helped show that the devastating disease trichomonosis has been spread by finches migrating between Britain and Scandinavia. We kept a close eye on migration throughout the year with regular bulletins via the BTO migration blog and the interactive migration timeline

BTO expands in Wales

In July, at the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, we celebrated the official opening of our brand new office in Wales. We’ve been delighted by the welcome and support we’ve received from our funders, Environment Wales, Countryside Council for Wales and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation as well as from other voluntary and conservation organisations in Wales. Our two members of staff at the new office at Bangor University will be put to the test this spring as we launch a Wales-specific survey of the three chat species, Stonechat, Whinchat and Wheatear. 


Siskin by Edmund Fellowes

Siskin by Edmund Fellowes

BTO Garden BirdWatch reaches some significant milestones

During 2011, BTO Garden BirdWatch (GBW) reached two significant milestones in terms of the amount of information that has been collected by its fantastic supporters. We have now received in excess of six million weekly records, a staggering achievement, representing some 80 million individual species observations. The size of the GBW dataset has enabled us to carry out new and important analyses exploring how birds (and other wildlife) use gardens and how this use has changed over time. For example, with GBW data we have charted the impact of disease on Greenfinches, discovered that Siskins increase their use of gardens in years with a poor crop of conifer seed and that urban birds arrive to feed later than their country cousins.

Medals and awards

This year’s Bernard Tucker Medal for outstanding contributions to BTO’s scientific work was presented to Mike Nicoll, particularly for his studies of waders and raptors over nearly forty years. The Jubilee Medal was awarded to John Bonell, a volunteer who has so far input the ringing information for 3.3 million birds, there-by making masses of archived, paper data available for new analyses. At a ceremony hosted by the Society of Wildlife Artists in the Mall Galleries, London, environmental journalist and author, Michael McCarthy was awarded the Dilys Breese Medal for outstanding communicators. Dr Ian Hartley was awarded the Marsh Award for Ornithology for his significant contribution to the field, and Henfield Birdwatch’s Mike Russell received the Marsh Local Ornithology Award for their published study on the birds of the Parish of Henfield, Sussex. This year we also honoured the long service of 12 of our BTO Regional Reps, who have all dedicated at least 25 years of time and effort to supporting our volunteers.

Monitoring and indicators

A key part of the work done by BTO volunteers and staff feeds into government indicators about the state of the environment.  The English regional indicators showed continuing declines for farmland birds, especially in the south.  However, research by BTO Scotland suggested that certain farmland species are finding refuge in British uplands.  Our scientists also published on other bird groups, including peer-reviewed research investigating the regions used in national seabird monitoring, showing these could be improved by incorporating knowledge of species ecology.

Back to the Future: BTO web developments

Online data capture, storage and communication is at the heart of BTO’s work these days and we are fortunate to have an enormously talented team of web and database developers who are constantly looking for ways to improve user-experience  by developing our systems and interfaces. The development of the BirdAtlas 2007-11 website has been a showcase for this talent over recent years and with this work winding down, the team has spent more time pushing forward BirdTrack developments by launching better ways to “explore your records” and pulling in your Atlas data. They have also published ringing reports online for the first time and have enabled online transect section mapping for the Breeding Bird Survey. The website has also been continuing to grow and develop, to see how the site looked back in 2000, check out this link sent to us by volunteer, Ian Traynor.

The Changing Nature of Scotland

Ringers by David Tipling

Ringers by David Tipling

The huge contribution that BTO volunteers in Scotland make to biodiversity monitoring was given high profile at the Scottish Natural Heritage Changing Nature of Scotland conference held in Perth in 2009, with three BTO papers presented (published 6 October 2011): the importance of the Bird Atlas and Garden BirdWatch for understanding changes in Scottish bird populations, plus a more general look at bird monitoring in Scotland and future needs. The whole proceedings are a fascinating read and may be downloaded here.  More than 2000 new volunteer bird surveyors signed up to take part in five long-term BTO-led bird surveys in Scotland during the Building Bird Monitoring in Scotland project - that’s just one of the successes featured in the project’s Final Report published in June 2011. Find out more.

New Bird Care range launched

We continued to develop our fruitful relationship with Gardman in 2011 by launching a brand new birdcare range with some exciting and innovative features. All our new feeders are treated with the unique FeedSafe antibacterial coating and all our feeds now include Nutrivian - a nutritional supplement that provides a well-balanced diet. A generous percentage of the money raised through the sale of our products goes directly towards our research work. We were delighted to learn that Garden News Magazine recently awarded three bird feeders in the new BTO range ‘Best Buy’.


Great Spotted Woodpecker by Jill Pakenham

Great Spotted Woodpecker
by Jill Pakenham

Climate change

Climate change (PDF, 765.71 KB)
continued to be an important focus of
BTO research.  Our scientists showed that the diversity of Britain’s birds has increased with a warming climate, as the range of generalist species, for example Great Spotted Woodpecker, has grown.  However, this was accompanied by a loss of habitat specialists, such as the Corn Bunting.  BTO ecologists also modelled how species’ distributions would change in forthcoming decades, showing some potential winners and losers of climate change.

Unravelling the secrets of the Cuckoo

Our Cuckoo-tracking project has finally revealed the wintering grounds of English Cuckoos after decades of mystery. It is hard to believe just how much these five satellite-tagged birds have taught us about the migration routes and destinations of the Cuckoo and we hope 2012 will reveal a whole lot more. In 2011 we learnt about the southward migration, so this year we hope that all five will survive the arduous northward return migration to tell us even more about this iconic species. In 2012 we hope to tag a small number of Scottish Cuckoos should to help us understand more about why the Cuckoo population in Scotland is faring so much better than the English population.

Online Bird ID Training Launched

In 2011 we launched the first in our new series of Bird ID video tutorials focusing specifically on those species which can prove tricky to distinguish from each other. Back in the spring we started by looking at Chiffchaff Vs Willow Warbler and then quickly turned our attention to Blackcap Vs Garden Warbler and Whitethroat Vs Lesser Whitethroat. Later in the year we looked at separating Wood and Green Sandpipers and made an effort to help in the ever tricky Marsh Vs Willow Tit debate. The series now has 11 different tutorials with many more planned, keep an eye on the Bird ID page for the latest videos. We welcome suggestions for future projects so if you could do with some help on particular species let us know by info [at] (subject: Suggestion%20for%20bird%20ID%20video) (emailing us).