Taking part

Find out how you can get involved in fieldwork for the Winter Gull Survey. 

What skills do I need to take part?

WinGS is made up of two main counts: those at key gull roost sites, and those at ‘sample squares’ outwith the key sites.

Taking part in key roost site counts

Volunteers need to be confident that they can: 

  • Count large numbers of birds accurately – roosts often number in the thousands. 
  • Identify all gull species in flight as birds come in to roost, potentially in low light conditions.

In particular, volunteers need to be confident in identifying the six most abundant UK gull species: Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

Counting gulls at ‘sample squares’

If your gull ID skills are less comprehensive, you may be able to take part by counting gulls at ‘sample squares’ – additional stretches of coastline and inland areas outwith key sites. These squares are suitable for volunteers with less experience, although you will still need to be able to identify the five commonest gull species.

Improving your skills

If you want to improve your identification skills, or boost your confidence, we have resources to help you. We often run training events covering gull ID, and these are advertised on the BTO events pages

You can also browse our gull ID videos, which are full of helpful advice for identifying both common and more unusual gull species.

How much time does it take? 

The amount of time you spent volunteering for WinGS depends on the count(s) you take part in.

  • A single visit to a key site around dusk to count roosting gulls, in January 2024 or 2025.
  • Counting a ‘sample square’ on a single visit in January 2024 or 2025. 
  • A single visit to a key site around dusk to count roosting gulls, in autumn 2024.

You will also need to spend time submitting your data to BTO.

How do I get involved? 

Find a site to monitor

Key sites for WinGS counts cover the UK, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Search the Vacant Site Map for available WinGS sites in your area. 

Sign-up and survey dates

Sign-up is now open. You now can browse and sign up for WinGS survey sites (both at key roost sites and sample squares). Please bookmark this page and check frequently for the latest updates on taking part.

  • Oct 2023: Sign-ups for the 2023/24 winter counts begin.
  • Jan 2024: Survey visit(s) for the 2023/24 winter counts. Key Date: January 21st
  • Apr 2024: Sign-ups for the 2024 autumn counts begin (dates TBC).
  • Sept 2024: sign-ups for the 2024/25 winter counts.
  • Jan 2025: Survey visit(s) for the 2024/25 winter counts. Key Date: January 19th

To request sites, you will need to log in to the WinGS portal. 

  • You will need a MyBTO account to log in to the WinGS portal. If you don’t already have one, you can create a MyBTO account now

The BTO Regional Network and the National Survey Organiser will coordinate survey allocation to ensure that the required survey coverage is achieved.  

Some sites will need to be covered by a team of volunteers carrying out a coordinated count on the same evening. These are the largest roost sites, where a high skill level and/or teams of volunteers will be essential for collecting robust data. If you sign up for a ‘team site’, you will need to liaise with the local organiser or team leader prior to carrying out the counts (their details will be provided for you).

You may also be able to contact your local bird club to find out more; some (though not all) clubs may be organising groups to survey larger sites. 

There is a gull roost near me that’s not part of WinGS. What shall I do?

The survey does not attempt cover all small roost sites and the sample sites will be used to estimate the total number of gulls using smaller sites. Records of gulls at smaller roosts (less than a thousand birds in total) can be entered into BirdTrack (www.birdtrack.net). However, if the roost is being used by more than a thousand birds, please contact us to let us know about it at wings [at] bto.org).

Collecting data from your site

Key roost sites

If you have signed up to visit a key roost site, you will count gulls from a fixed point as the birds arrive to roost at dusk. You may do this alone or with a team of other volunteers, especially on larger sites. If your site is part of a larger team site it is important that you liaise with the team leader and cary out the count on the agreed date.

Roost counts at key sites will involve recording a large number of birds, some of which will continue to arrive during and after dusk. We do not expect observers to be able to identify all birds to species, and you will be able to record some gulls as ‘large gull species’ or ‘small gull species’ or even just as ‘gull species’. However, it is important that as many gulls as possible are identified to the species level. 

Sample squares

If you are visiting a sample square, either at the coast or inland, you will need to follow the same guidance, although sample sites are standalone sites and will not normally involve working with a team. 

  • We will publish full instructions for data collection closer to the time of the surveys. In the meantime, you can contact wings [at] bto.org with any questions or queries.

Submitting your data

Volunteers will be able to submit their counts via an online data entry system, in the WinGS portal.

However, in the case of some ‘team sites’, counters will submit their data to the team leader for the site who will submit a total count for the site. If you are covering part of a team site, please liaise with the team leader to check how you should submit your data.

Do gull counts I’ve submitted to BirdTrack, or sent to a County Bird Recorder, feed into WinGS?

Like most structured surveys, WinGS has bespoke data needs and therefore, transferring data from one place to another often does not cover all the survey-specific details needed.

  • The only way to send data to WinGS is through the WinGS Online system, completing all the sections required in the WinGS form.

You can continue to add roost counts to BirdTrack and/or send them directly to your County Bird Recorder if you wish. These data can then be used in a variety of ways from each database.


Recording forms for data collection

When collecting data, you should use a WinGS-specific recording form. These will be made available on this page prior to the survey counts starting. You can download and print these forms yourself, or request paper copies from wings [at] bto.org.

WinGS Organiser Handbook 

Use these links to view or download the WinGS Organiser Handbook. This outlines the responsibilities of WinGS Organisers (WOs), and is a comprehensive guide to using the WinGS Organiser options within WinGS Online.

WinGS Counter Resources

Use these links to view or download the WinGS Counters Resources. These documents outline the aims and methods of WinGS for Counters. 

WinGS Recording Forms

Health and Safety information for volunteers

WinGS involves evening-time observations of inland and coastal water bodies in mid January and in autumn.

Before you take part in this survey, please assess any site-specific risks you may encounter. Risks are likely to relate to cold weather and conditions of low light. If weather conditions are adverse or access to your site becomes dangerous in snowy or icy conditions please postpone any survey efforts.

Get in touch

Email us

Would you like to find out more about WinGS?

Drop us a line: wings [at] bto.org

Find us on Twitter

Follow us at @WeBS_UK, and remember to tag us in your WinGS-related tweets using #WinGS_UK or #WinterGulls!

Subscribe to WinGS updates

Sign up for the WinGS Newsletter to hear the latest information about survey news, monitoring sites and scheme methodology.


Terms and Conditions of taking part

Standard Terms and Conditions

In participating in this British Trust for Ornithology (“BTO”, “Us”, “We”) activity, scheme or survey (“Project”) you are agreeing to the following terms and conditions:

Personal data and maintaining contact

If you are providing your name, address and other personal details, BTO will store and use your personal details in line with our published Privacy Policy (www.bto.org/about/privacy-statement or you can request a copy direct).  You can specify your preferences surrounding the way we contact you at any time (email info [at] bto.org, or phone 01842 750050).

More specifically with regard to this project, in order to administer your participation and to verify the data you submit, we may need to be able to contact you (usually by email, overriding any other contact preference regarding receiving email). We may need to provide your name and email address to third parties, in case they need to contact you to verify the biological data you submit.

Biological data that you submit to us

A key charitable objective of BTO is to pursue scientific knowledge and conservation outcomes, in the public interest. By submitting contributions of biological and observational data to BTO you grant us perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub-licensable permission to use, modify and redistribute the data as we see fit, to further this objective. This may include providing data you submit to third parties for the purposes of verification, processing and further analysis and use.

You give us this permission non-exclusively, meaning that you yourself still own your contribution. You may use, distribute or modify your individual contribution in any way you like. However, you do not possess ownership of any BTO dataset itself.

Some BTO projects allow participants to flag certain records as 'sensitive', enabling us to manage the way in which information may be displayed. Subject to project-specific terms and conditions, such 'sensitive' records may be made available to appropriate third parties, according to partnership agreements or at the discretion of BTO.

You may not contribute data to BTO that you neither own, nor have express permission to contribute on behalf of another individual or organisation.

Specific Terms and Conditions applying to those who register for the WinGS Online Surveys

In addition to the standard terms and conditions, you also agree to the following:

As stated in the ‘Personal data and maintaining contact’ section of the standard terms and conditions, we may need to provide your name and email address to third parties, in case they need to contact you to verify the biological data you submit.

For WinGS, we may also need to provide your name and email address to third parties so that they can contact you to co-ordinate the surveying of a site that requires a team of volunteers to cover. Such third parties for WinGS may include WinGS Local Organisers and/or WinGS Team Leaders).

You agree that any information you supply through WinGS Online (with the exception of personal data, see Privacy Policy www.bto.org/about/privacy-statement) may be disseminated at the discretion of the WinGS partners, including under the Open Government Licence (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/).

You confirm that if you are submitting information on behalf of anyone else then they have also agreed that their information may be disseminated in the same manner.

You agree that any information you obtain from within the WinGS Online application (other than counts submitted by you) will not be used in any presentation, publication, report, etc. or be passed on to a third party without prior written permission from the BTO. However, a distinction is made with the WeBS Report Online (www.bto.org/webs-reporting), to which information from WinGS may be published as supplementary data.

Information from WinGS may be used under the Open Government Licence with appropriate attribution, if published in the WeBS Report Online or any other such facility that states permission is given for data re-use under licence.

You accept that whilst every effort is made to ensure data held by the WinGS partners are correct, the WinGS partners cannot accept responsibility for any errors in data provided. You accept that the WinGS partners cannot be held responsible for any misuse or misinterpretation of WinGS data.

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