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New Bird Atlas for Britain out today


Posted on: 21 Nov 2013

The long-awaited Bird Atlas 2007-11 is published today, the culmination of four years of voluntary work by 40,000 people, and shows many changes in our avifauna.

The book has been one of the most ambitious volunteer projects ever undertaken, mapping all of our birds in both winter and breeding seasons in every part of Britain and Ireland. Many of the results are rather surprising.

More than 40,000 volunteers spent four years performing timed visits to count every single bird and bird species at chosen sites, and submitting their records to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). This led to local information on bird numbers being integrated by the organisation into a grand national picture of the state of Britain and Ireland’s bird populations; they also found some startling results along the way.

Over the last 40 years the British breeding areas for 74 (38 per cent) of our bird species have expanded beyond their previously known range, while for 72 (37 per cent) others the range has shrunk; for 47 more (24 per cent) it has remained largely the same. What is rather surprising is that for nearly all of them there has been a shift in where they live. Every species has a story to tell, it seems.

For those species that winter in Britain, the changes have been very different. More than three quarters of species were found in more areas than three decades ago. Improved coverage of remote areas explains some but not all of these gains, but the 8 per cent of species now found in fewer areas are of greater concern.

Forty years ago, Little Egret was very much a Mediterranean species, but in 1996 it bred here for the first time. Since then it has increased its range in Britain by a whopping 16,350 per cent and has become a familiar bird for many – one that our children will grow up with and associate with British wetlands.

Green Woodpecker exemplifies the complex changes we see, having become more common in eastern England and spreading northwards into parts of eastern Scotland. However, it has begun to disappear from western Wales, an area that is also losing its Northern Lapwings, Kestrels and Starlings. Yellowhammer is also disappearing from our countryside: 40 years ago the species could be heard singing in almost every village of Britain and Ireland, but it is now missing from large swathes of Ireland, western Scotland, southern Wales and northern England – a 32 per cent range contraction for this formerly widespread breeding bird.

Dawn Balmer, Atlas Coordinator, commented: "As the maps started to come together, it was astonishing just how much had changed. There were stories that we knew, such as the disappearance of Tree Sparrow and the spread of Egyptian Goose, but why are we losing specialist species such as Willow Tit, now virtually extinct in South-East England, and what’s driving the spread of Nuthatch?"

Simon Gillings, BTO Senior Research Ecologist, said: "Conservation scientists have been desperate for a new atlas. Its comprehensive coverage of all areas and all species gives us the depth of information we need to learn from our recent conservation successes, and plan for the challenges of tomorrow."

Bird Atlas 2007-11 contains over 1,300 maps showing the patterns of distribution, abundance and change for nearly 300 species in one hardback volume. Bird Atlas 2007-11 is a partnership between British Trust for Ornithology, Scottish Ornithologists' Club and Birdwatch Ireland. The Atlas is published by BTO on behalf of the Atlas partnership and can be ordered at a discount from the Birdwatch Bookshop: http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/store/product.asp?prod=3307.


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