The survey may require as little as 4–5 hours' fieldwork per year. Just two counting visits are needed between April and June, one before and one after mid May. Habitat is also recorded each year but can often be noted on a return walk, after a counting visit. Expect to record many more birds in 500 m of rich, waterside habitat than in a 200-m BBS section! Waterway birding is often busy and exciting and can sometimes provide the utterly unexpected!
WBBS operates mainly on pre-selected sites, many of which are on the middle or upper sections of rivers. Some may require a good level of physical fitness, though others, such as canals and lowland rivers, might be perfectly level and with a good footpath! Observers need to be confident about recording bird species on their stretch by both sight and sound.
More than 500 sites have been selected randomly for WBBS coverage. These lie in all parts of the UK. Especially in upland regions, many are still awaiting an observer. Each site is referred to using a nominal one-kilometre grid reference, which might be a few km from the survey itself. If a site has not previously been surveyed, the full waterway stretch from which a survey can be selected is defined by a 'primary map', held by your BTO Regional Representative and by the survey's national organiser, Sarah Harris (wbbs [at] bto.org).
For details of vacant sites in your region, please contact your BTO Regional Representative or email wbbs [at] bto.org. To enquire generally or informally about taking part, please email wbbs [at] bto.org.
Further information and forms
The following information and forms for WBBS are available for download:
WBBS in 2017 - general information (PDF, 577.07 KB)
WBBS instructions* (PDF, 2.21 MB) — unchanged from 2014 (8 A4 pages, pdf, 2.2 Mb)
Habitat recording form* (PDF, 356.70 KB) — unchanged from 2014 (2 A4 pages, pdf, 356 kb)
Mammal summary sheet* (PDF, 118.42 KB) — minor changes since 2014 (2 A4 pages, pdf, 285 kb)
Field recording sheet* (PDF, 351.83 KB) — unchanged (4 A4 pages, pdf, 334 kb)
Count summary sheet* (PDF, 357.85 KB) — unchanged (4 A4 pages, pdf, 358 kb)
Count summary sheet, short version (PDF, 253.64 KB) — room for 19 species (2 A4 pages, pdf, 285 kb)
Count summary sheet continuation page (PDF, 167.46 KB) — (1 A4 page, pdf, 202 kb)
They are also available in printed form from your BTO Regional Representative or from BTO HQ in Thetford, along with (if required) a letter of introduction to landowners*. *The seven starred items compose the standard WBBS survey pack.
If you are not using WBBS-Online, please return completed paper forms to your BTO Regional Representative or by post to BTO HQ in Thetford.
Health & safety
WBBS participants are asked to bear in mind that rivers and canals can be particularly dangerous environments, especially in flood conditions. The BTO's health and safety information should be studied before any fieldwork is started.