All change for birds in Wales

No.:  2013-50
November 2013

One of the most ambitious volunteer projects ever undertaken, to map all of Britain and Irelands birds in both winter and the breeding season, and from every part of these islands, is realised with the publication of the Bird Atlas 2007–11, and the results are surprising.

Over 40,000 volunteers spent four years scouring the countryside in search of birds, submitting their records to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), to integrate local information on bird numbers into coherent national pictures of the state of Britain and Ireland’s bird populations, and finding some startling results along the way.

Over the last forty years the British breeding areas for 74 (38%) of our bird species have expanded beyond their previously known range, whilst for 72 (37%) of them the range has shrunk, and for 47 (24%) it has remained relatively unchanged. But what is rather surprising is that for nearly all of them there has been a shift in where they live. Every species has a story to tell.

For those species that spend the winter months with us the changes have been very different. Over three quarters of species were found in more areas than three decades ago. Improved coverage of remote areas explains some but not all of these gains, but the 8% of species now found in fewer areas are of real concern.

So, what are the surprises? Formerly widespread in the western half of Wales, the Green Woodpecker has largely disappeared over the last forty years, mirroring the loss of Lapwings, Kestrels and Starling.

Following its colonisation of south-east England in the early 1970s, the Cetti’s Warbler has now spread around the south coast of Wales and colonised Anglesey and the nearby coast of north Wales.
The range contraction of breeding Curlew is one of the biggest stories in the Atlas, and although Ireland has suffered the greatest loss (78% loss of range over 40 years) there has also been significant loss in the western half of Wales.

Dawn Balmer, Atlas coordinator, commented, "As the maps started to come together it was astonishing just how much had changed. There were stories that we knew such as the range expansion of Stonechats and Siskins, but the extent of the loss of Kestrel and breeding Woodcock came as a surprise There are other surprising stories such as the colonisation of Collared Dove in mid-Wales over the last 40 years."

Simon Gillings, Senior Research Ecologist comments: "Conservation scientists have been desperate for a new atlas. Its comprehensive coverage of all areas and all species gives us the depth of information we need to learn from our recent conservation successes, and in understanding the changes we see, plan for the challenges of tomorrow."

Andy Clements, Director of the BTO, said, “This is one of the biggest citizen science projects ever undertaken and its importance for Britain’s birds is significant.”

Kelvin Jones, BTO Wales Development Officer, said, "The thousands of volunteers who have contributed so much to this atlas can rightly feel very proud, that their effort will be used for future conservation planning.

Mi allai'r miloedd o wirfoddolwyr sydd wedi cyfrannu cymaint i’r Atlas teimlo yn falch fod y holl ymdrech yn mynd i fod mor ddefnyddiol hefo cynllunio cadwraeth yn y dyfodol."

Notes for Editors

1. The Atlas contains over 1,300 maps that describe patterns of distribution, abundance and change for nearly 300 species in one hardback volume. For more information http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/birdatlas

2.  Bird Atlas 2007-11 is a partnership between British Trust for Ornithology, Scottish Ornithologists' Club and Birdwatch Ireland.  The Atlas is published by BTO on behalf of the Atlas partnership.

3. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org

Contact information

Dawn Balmer
(Atlas Coordinator)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07743 994497
Email: dawn.balmer [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Dr Simon Gillings
(BTO Senior Research Ecologist)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: simon.gillings [at] bto.org

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