Actor Martin Shaw teams up with ornithologists to support well-being and mental health; encouraging us to “stop and watch”

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Robin by Gray Images

Actor Martin Shaw,  known for his roles in The Professionals, Judge John Deed and Inspector George Gently, has teamed up with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to promote the value of connecting with nature through mindful birdwatching, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The well-being benefits of connecting with nature are now better recognised than ever before, with a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating the positive effects on health and well-being that come from interacting with the natural world. Some GPs now prescribe birdwatching and other outdoor activities to help treat stress and other conditions.

Mindfulness has similarly been proved to support our mental well-being… so what if we combine the benefits of nature and birdwatching with mindfulness?

Actor Martin Shaw, working with the BTO, has done just that and produced a downloadable podcast, Stop to Watch – A time to be with nature. The podcast guides listeners through a mindfulness approach that can be used to let the stresses of the day melt away while you focus on birds.

Deb Lee of the BTO said, “We should not underestimate the healing power of taking time out to be with nature, particularly during these very strange and stressful times. Spending time with nature doesn’t have to take you to a nature reserve; it can be experienced from home – listening to the sounds, feeling the wind, or the sun. It is about focussing on what is around us and experiencing the wonder of it.”

The podcast is being launched as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, which runs from 18–24th May.

The Stop to Watch podcast is free and can be downloaded from www.bto.org/podcast

Over 7,000 people sign up for garden citizen science survey during lockdown

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House Sparrow by Edmund Fellowes/BTO

Gardens cover more land than nature reserves in the UK, yet their importance for our wildlife is under recorded – is that about to change?

While our movements have been restricted, many of us have spent more time watching and enjoying our garden wildlife. Since the beginning of April, over 7,000 people have taken the opportunity to engage with the UK’s most robust garden wildlife survey, joining 11,000 existing members and turning their observations into scientific data, by joining Garden BirdWatch (GBW), a long-term garden wildlife survey run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Garden BirdWatch records help scientists at the BTO understand how garden birds and wildlife are changing over time. Thanks to the sightings of thousands of Garden BirdWatch volunteers we understand more about how wildlife uses the food, shelter and other resources in our gardens, and the threats they face, such as disease. Most importantly, the more we know about how birds and animals use our gardens, the more we can improve our cities, towns, villages and individual gardens for wildlife.

Garden BirdWatch membership was made free in April (it normally costs £17), in an attempt to help people find an enjoyable purpose in their garden birdwatching during this period of uncertainty. The free membership offer will continue while the current movement restrictions remain in place, each free membership lasting for a year.

Kate Risely, GBW Organiser at the BTO said, “Many more people are turning to their gardens for interest and to watch wildlife, and we are delighted that so many want to contribute their sightings to our research. Garden BirdWatch has been running for 25 years, making the survey older than some of our younger volunteers. We hope some of the people who have joined this year will still be participating many years in the future!”

Make your garden wildlife observations count by joining BTO Garden BirdWatch free at www.bto.org/gbw

The latest report on UK’s breeding birds shows mixed results.

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Greenfinches by Edmund Fellowes

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, covering population trends for the UK’s bird species, is released today. This report is a celebration of the dedication of the volunteers who give up their time and take part in bird surveying; collectively they walked 14,996km whilst actively surveying in 2019. 

The distance walked in 2019 is the equivalent of walking from the BTO’s headquarters in Norfolk to Palmer Land in Antarctica! Since the survey began in 1994, the total distance walked by BBS volunteers is a staggering 299,701km, almost seven and a half times around the World! But what has it told us?

The report covering the population changes of UK’s breeding birds shows that one of our most widespread and common bird is in trouble and disappearing from large parts of the country, and how skilled volunteers are helping to monitor the changes as they unfold.

The Greenfinch is a familiar bird, being a frequent visitor to garden feeding stations across the UK, but how much longer might this be the case? The 2019 Breeding Bird Survey results show an alarming decline. During the last 23 years, the Greenfinch population has fallen by 64%.

The main driver behind this change is a parasite that causes a disease called trichomonosis. Known as a disease in cage birds for some time, it was first noted in British finches in 2006. Infected birds become lethargic, have fluffed-up feathers and are unable to swallow food. Transmission between birds can be via contaminated food and water, e.g. at garden feeding stations. Good feeding station hygiene, with regular cleaning and disinfecting can help to slow the spread. The Trichomonas gallinae parasite is a parasite of birds and does not pose a health risk to humans or their mammalian pets.

In contrast, the UK’s commonest bird, the Wren, just got even more common with an increase of 30% over the last 23 years as reported by the Breeding Bird Survey. This translates to around 11,000,000 Wrens across the UK, as calculated using BBS trend changes and historic estimates and published in another bird monitoring report, APEP. A run of mild winters no doubt contributing to the 30% increase since 1994 as revealed by the BBS Report.

It is now possible to monitor the population changes for 117 bird species and it is all thanks to the dedication of the thousands of BBS volunteers who go out every spring to survey the UKs’ birdlife.

Sarah Harris, BBS Organiser, said “I am always amazed by the power of citizen science, the dedication of volunteers and in turn, the difference their observations can make to conservation and research. The Greenfinch is still found across the UK and you might be forgiven for thinking nothing is amiss, but as the BBS shows, nothing could be further from the truth – thanks to all those who take part we are able to keep an eye out for changes in bird populations.”

Paul Woodcock, Biodiversity Evidence Specialist at JNCC,  said, “The report really highlights the huge contribution made by BBS volunteers up and down the country, and shows that the high quality data can help understand when, how and why bird populations are changing. Thank you to everyone involved”

Mark Eaton, RSPB’s Principal Conservation Scientist, said “Greenfinches are fantastic little birds, and the flashes of green and yellow used to be a common sight at our bird feeders. The food we put out for these little seed-eaters has become increasingly important over the years, as food availability in the wider countryside has reduced. Continuing to provide food is important but you can help them, and other birds, by cleaning your feeders and water sources every couple of weeks with a mild disinfectant.”

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, and the report is published by BTO annually on behalf of the partnership.

The full report can be accessed here for trends on all 117 species covered by the Breeding Bird Survey.

British Cuckoo completes 22,000 mile odyssey in record time.

Sadly my sponsored cuckoo Raymond didn’t make it beyond August 2019 so it’s good to read that Carlton II has arrived back in the UK.

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Cuckoo by Steve Ashton

A Cuckoo called Carlton II has just arrived back in England having spent the last ten months travelling to and from the Congo rainforest, becoming the first of the BTO’s satellite-tracked cuckoos to return to this country in 2020. 

Aided by favourable southerly winds, he completed the last leg of his mammoth journey in record time, Ivory Coast to southern England in seven days. In doing so, he leap-frogged two other tracked cuckoos, named PJ and Senan, currently stopping over in Spain and North Africa respectively.

Carlton II was fitted with a high-tech satellite tag in May 2018, by scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology at SWT Carlton Marshes, Suffolk, to allow them to follow his every move. We have lost almost three-quarters of our breeding Cuckoos during the last 25 years and, as Cuckoos spend more time outside of the UK that they do in it, it is vital to understand where they go, the journey they take to get there, and any pressures they face that might be contributing to their decline.

Carlton II spends the summers in Suffolk and the winters in Gabon, Central Africa, and travels over 5,500 miles between the two, dodging many hazards, such as high winds, sand and hailstorms, ferocious thunderstorms, drought and lengthy sea-crossings. Since having his tag fitted Carlton II has flown over 22,000 miles on his migration.

Dr Chris Hewson, BTO lead scientist on the project, “It is great to see Carlton II getting back to the UK so quickly. Taking just a week to cover more than three thousand miles from Liberia to Berkshire is an awesome feat and something even  swifts don’t manage. This shows us just how quickly these harbingers of spring can get here from tropical Africa when conditions for their journey are good It’s a journey so full of hazards that it’s always a relief when they get back,  no matter how fast or slow. These Cuckoos have taught us so much about their lives, giving answers but also raising more questions as to what might be behind their decline.”
Anyone can watch the Cuckoos as they make their incredible journeys at www.bto.org/cuckoos

Volunteers’ data vital in wetland conservation

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Pochard by Edmund Fellowes / BTO

Data collected by volunteers as part of the Wetland Bird Survey, and published in a report today, play a crucial role in the designation of protected wetland sites in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and underline their importance in helping to conserve our waterbirds.

Many of the UK’s wetlands are given protected status as a result of the number of ducks, geese, swans and waders that use these sites during the winter. Once a month, a network of volunteers go out to wetlands across the length and breadth of the country to count the waterbirds present as part of the long-running Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). Data have been collected for over 70 years, providing vital information on which sites are the most important for waterbirds, leading to their designation as protected sites. WeBS counts also capture notable changes in the numbers of waterbirds present, flagging-up issues that may require further investigation.

Today’s WeBS report sets out evidence that more than a third of the waterbird species that use our most important and protected wetlands have declined by 25% or more. Some of these declines are because of large-scale changes in global waterbird distributions due to climate change; others may be due to local problems at individual sites.

Several declining ducks and waders, such as Scaup, Goldeneye and Purple Sandpiper, are becoming increasingly reliant on protected sites. One species, the Pochard, Red-listed under both the UK Birds of Conservation Concern and IUCN Global Red List, clearly demonstrates the immense value of these protected areas. Whilst overall winter numbers in the UK are half what they used to be, numbers at protected sites have declined at a comparatively slower rate. In Northern Ireland, virtually no Pochard now occur outside these protected areas.

The latest figures highlight the importance of long-term monitoring, not only for keeping an eye on our wintering waterbirds but also on the sites that they use. It is this long-term monitoring that helps to future-proof our protected area network for waterbirds as the climate continues to change.

Teresa Frost, WeBS National Organiser at British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said WeBS results from the mild, dry winter of 2018/19 showed evidence for some migratory waterbirds spending less time here. Wigeon, for example, had lower numbers than usual in autumn and spring – perhaps because they were able to spend more of the period closer to their breeding grounds, with mild conditions on the Continent. For other species, declines in winter counts here are related to pressures from climate change, habitat loss and other pressures in their breeding and wintering areas. It’s essential that we keep monitoring, both here and in other countries, and combine this information with other scientific studies, so we can build the picture of which species, such as Curlew and Pochard, are most in need of international conservation effort.”

Anna Robinson, Monitoring Ecologist at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), said, “Having a long term dataset such as WeBS is of immense value in helping us understand the big picture of biodiversity trends, areas that are important for wildlife, and how designated protected sites can help. Without so many dedicated volunteers going out and counting the birds that use these sites, the picture would be much poorer.

Simon Wotton, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said “This report highlights the importance of excellent, long-term, monitoring. Many of the sites surveyed under WeBS are of international importance and designated as Special Protection Areas, currently under EU law. These data help us ensure that these important habitats for wildlife remain protected.”

To view the full report, please visit: www.bto.org/webs-annual-report

National community of garden birdwatchers offers people the opportunity to stay connected to nature from home

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Blue Tit by John Harding

Each week, for the past 25 years, an army of citizen scientists has recorded the birds and other wildlife visiting their gardens, enabling researchers at the BTO to answer important questions about garden wildlife. This national community has just opened its doors in order to help those confined to their homes this spring to connect with wildlife and contribute to important scientific research without leaving home.

During this current period of uncertainty, many of us are looking to our gardens to enjoy nature and be outdoors, to learn, and to improve our well-being. BTO Garden BirdWatch (GBW) offers a great opportunity to learn more about garden birds and other wildlife, and to contribute directly to BTO’s important scientific research on the value of gardens for wildlife. The more we know about how wildlife uses our gardens, the more we can make our cities, towns, villages and individual gardens better for nature.

The survey involves simply keeping a list of the birds you see visiting your garden over the course of a week, and then entering this into the BTO’s online recording system. You can also record other garden wildlife, such as butterflies and mammals.

GBW is normally run as a membership, with an annual fee of £17, and includes a book and regular magazines. The generous financial support of participants is what allows BTO to carry out its work monitoring garden wildlife and our scientific research.

However, we want to enable more people to get involved in garden wildlife recording under the current circumstances, to discover an enjoyable purpose in garden birdwatching, and to feel part of a community all working on the same project, even though all of us are confined to our own gardens. Therefore we are offering membership of BTO Garden BirdWatch for free during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The free offer does not include the book or magazines, and will instead be online only, including:

  • Access to the GBW online recording system.
  • A regular e-newsletter with information on recording and identifying garden wildlife.
  • Access the BTO’s team of wildlife experts, to answer your questions.

The free membership will be valid for one year, after which it will expire as normal.

Kate Risely, Garden BirdWatch Organiser at the BTO, said, “A connection to nature is so important to our well-being, and the easiest place to watch and learn about wildlife is in our own gardens. We hope that this opportunity to join the Garden BirdWatch community will help people across the UK find new meaning in their garden birdwatching, to learn new things and to play a part in national research into our garden wildlife” 

 

To take part in Garden BirdWatch, please visit  www.bto.org/join-gbw