Whether it is the sight of the summer’s first Swallow or the sound of a spring Cuckoo, the return of ‘our’ summer migrants delivers a reassuring sense of a globe that, as the poet Ted Hughes once described, ‘is still working’. That birds should undertake such long and dangerous migratory journeys is something that has long fascinated us, prompting works of art and literature, not to mention many thousands of scientific studies.
Now, at a time when many of our migrant birds are in decline, this fascination with migration has even more relevance. Our combined interest can be used to fund and support much-needed research, such as the work being done by the BTO and its partners, and to secure wider engagement with these iconic birds. The BTO’s Flight Lines project, a joint initiative with the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA), seeks to highlight the challenges that migrant birds face and bring to a wider audience the research and conservation work that is being done to help these birds.
Where art and science meet
Bringing artists and scientists together delivers different perspectives on the same scene. Both question what they see, yet they look with different eyes. While science can provide the all-important evidence upon which conservation decisions and policy can be made, it is our emotional attachment to wildlife that will ultimately drive forward conservation action. Art and science are key players in delivering effective conservation action for migrant birds and other wildlife.
There are several strands to the Flight Lines project, a project made possible because of the generous legacy left by Penny Hollow. During the first year of the project we sent four artists to West Africa with our Head of International Research. The second year saw the development of work within the UK, bringing artists together with the volunteers who collect data on migrants, and in Italy, where many of our migrants stopover on their journey south. The third year sent a photojournalist and a storyteller to Gabon, to locations where satellite-tracked Cuckoos stopped. The final year of the project (2017) sees the publication of a book that adds a narrative to the artwork and research that portray the secrets of our migrant birds.