Stonechats bounce back in Wales

No.:  2015-29
July 2015

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, released today, reveals good news for Welsh birds, with several species bouncing back in 2014 after being badly affected by the cold spring of 2013. Population trends for 54 bird species in Wales were calculated in this report, which brings together data from the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds.

Stonechat by Paul Hillion/BTO

After a mild, if wet and stormy, 2013/14 winter, the BBS report shows that Wales’ Stonechat have increased by 93% between 2013 and 2014, following the harsh spring of 2013. This impressive increase is mirrored by the long-term increase of 73% between 1995 and 2013.

Being small-bodied birds that feed on invertebrates, Stonechat remain in Wales year-round, so are susceptible to harsh weather conditions when food resources may be hard to find and additional energy needed to keep warm. This species’ population is growing as milder winters, like that of 2013/14, become more common.

The iconic Cuckoo also had a good year with an increase of 37% from 2013 to 2014. The reasons for this increase are unknown, but likely to be very different from that of the Stonechat, as Cuckoos spend the winter months in central Africa. This contrasts with the long-term trend for Cuckoo with a decline of 29% between 1995 and 2013.

Research studying Cuckoo migration routes is currently being carried out by the BTO, with 18 Cuckoos carrying 5 gram satellite tags that transmit their locations to satellites. Of these, ‘David’ and ‘Disco Tony’, tagged in 2012 and 2015 respectively, were both caught in Wales and are feeding back valuable information. Understanding where Cuckoos winter, and the migration routes they take, could be an important factor in determining the causes for their long-term decline.

Wales’ Nuthatch and Blackcap have increased by 55% and 176% respectively between 1995 and 2013 . For both species, milder winters and greater food supplies at garden feeding stations are thought to have contributed to these increases.

Sarah Harris, BBS Organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said “Data from the BBS can prove invaluable for ‘flagging up’ species in trouble and in need of further research into their population changes. For example, we know Cuckoos are in long-term decline from the BBS data and now, with satellite tagging, the reasons behind these declines are being investigated. Thank you to every dedicated BBS volunteer in Wales. Your contributions to the survey are invaluable.”

Dr Siân Whitehead, Natural Resources Wales’ Terrestrial & Freshwater Ornithologist, said “These latest results show that it’s not all bad news for birds in Wales, and show how our changing climate can actually benefit some bird populations. Unfortunately, addressing declines in other species is not always easy; advances in technology are allowing us to capture all sorts of fascinating new data about our migratory species, but these data are highlighting the challenges that some species are facing while on migration and in their wintering grounds.”

Stephen Bladwell, RSPB Cymru Biodiversity Manager, said: “Birds are sensitive to changes in their environment and can indicate changes in nature more widely, they provide a tangible and practical way of measuring the health of the habitats and ecosystems in which they live. The latest BBS results continue to provide us with invaluable information. While we broadly know how to manage for species, sites and landscapes and have had success in halting and reversing some species declines. These results pose challenging questions about how we can ensure future generations experience the wonder, and maintain the many benefits of our wildlife as we do today.”

Notes for Editors

  1. For more information on Cuckoo tracking visit http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking
     
  2. In 2014, 331 BBS squares were surveyed in Wales. We are grateful to Natural Resources Wales for their support and funding with training and mentoring of BBS volunteers.
     
  3. The latest report can be found at www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/bbs/bbs-publications/bbs-reports.
     
  4. The Breeding Bird Survey is run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and is jointly funded by BTO, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) (on behalf of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage), and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
     
  5. The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a UK-wide project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species. The BBS involves around 2,600 participants who survey more than 3,600 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of over 100 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.
     
  6. The information provided by the BBS provides a cornerstone for conservation action for birds in the UK.
     
  7. This important survey is carried out by volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK, who receive no financial reward or expenses for their efforts. We are indebted to them for their tremendous support.
     
  8. 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 Details

Sarah Harris
(Breeding Bird Survey Organiser)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: sarah.harris [at] bto.org

Viola Ross-Smith
(BTO Science Communications Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: viola.ross-smith [at] bto.org

Kelvin Jones
(BTO Wales)

Office: 01248 383285
Mobile: 07979713282
Email:  kelvin.jones [at] bto.org

Dana Thomas
(Communications Manager, RSPB Cymru)

Office: 029 2035 3007
Email: dana.thomas [at] rspb.org.uk

Sian Whitehead
(Terrestrial & Freshwater Ornithologist, Natural Resources Wales)

Office: 01248 387246
Email: Sian.Whitehead [at] cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk

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