Breeding Bird Survey


BTO published a new statement on COVID-19 on 30 June. We ask that BBS volunteers follow this advice, and the specific guidance below. Note that from this date, volunteers undertaking surveys in Scotland are exempt from travel restrictions for the general public, but we strongly recommend that other guidelines on social distancing are followed.

England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Bailiwicks of Guernsey & Jersey and Isle of Man: You may undertake your BBS visits but, please ensure visits take place within three or four days either side of your usual visit date as normal. This is absolutely critical this year as we will largely be working with Late visit only data and need to remain as consistent as possible with this limited dataset. If you can not survey within this timeframe when looking at previous dates for the site, we advise the survey is not carried out for that visit. Although two visits are normally recommended, there is some scope, depending on the coverage we achieve, to produce trends for some species in England based on Late visit data only. Of course, any data collected will be valuable and available for other research purposes regardless of what we can achieve with trend production for 2020. Please ensure that you have the landowner’s permission to visit, where necessary. Please be sensitive to the feelings of some landowners at this time and if it doesn’t feel right to approach them, please leave fieldwork for this season. Please act fully within the spirit of the current guidelines in Wales regarding limits to distances of travel.

Whilst we can not cover all the caveats from government guidance where you are, e.g. use of public transport and guidance from emergency services (coastguards and mountain rescue etc), we hope the guidance provided above, alongside volunteers’ personal decisions informed by researching local advice, will assist in decisions on whether surveying is possible.

Chiffchaff by Paul Newton

BBS monitors the population changes of 117 breeding bird species across the UK thanks to the dedication of almost 3,000 volunteers who survey their randomly selected 1-km square each spring.

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common and widespread breeding birds, producing population trends for 117 bird and nine mammal species. 

The survey involves a recce visit and two early-morning spring visits to an allocated 1-km square, to count all the birds you see or hear while walking two 1-km lines across the square and record any nest counts for colonial nesting birds in the square. You can optionally record mammals and visit your square later in the season to survey for butterflies. There is the option to return data on paper, via field recording forms or to submit your data on BBS-Online.

Time / skill required

  • Undertake three site visits between April and June - a recce and two morning visits, along with data entry.
  • Able to identify UK breeding birds by sight, song and call.
  • If you have the necessary bird ID skills to take part in the Breeding Bird Survey but want to learn more about survey methods, there are a number of BTO training courses covering this subject.

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