For the latest version of our policy, see http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=4254.
As many of you will know, we recently reproduced Bird photography — a new code of practice with the kind permission of British Birds. The article caused plenty of interest and comment; from partisan birders v photographers arguments, to some thought-provoking additions as to whether sites such as BirdGuides encourage the disturbance of scarce breeding birds by hosting an outlet for these photos. We also had a lot of private correspondence highlighting some unacceptable behaviour at certain sites.
Each week we approve some 1200 photographs on our site. We reject plenty of them, as we attempt to enforce impartially the guidelines listed on the upload page. We would remind you of some of the salient guidelines here (a much fuller list is found on the upload page):
We receive many, many photos each week, and we use a team of ten people to put them through the approval process — which inevitably leads to inconsistencies on occasion. This also means that we don't personally know each and every photographer, whether or not they have a Schedule 1 licence, and whether or not most photo locations are likely breeding sites.
Therefore, in the interests of the welfare of scarce breeding birds (and consistency), we have decided to take a rather more draconian approach to our photo approvals. From now on, all photos of Schedule 1 species taken between March and June will be rejected by an automated system. We have carefully considered the Schedule 1 list, and we have made three additions of our own (Black Grouse, Long-eared Owl and Nightjar), of birds that may be particularly liable to disturbance during the breeding season.
The automatic rejection mechanism will not apply to photos of birds already reported on our bird news services (which are generally passage migrants and therefore non-breeders). Also, we will not be applying this new policy retrospectively: photos already uploaded will not be removed.
We hope that you will all agree that this is a fair and positive way forward. It puts the interests of our resident and migrant breeding birds first.
We would like to respond to some of the general points raised in this animated discussion.
BirdGuides is not in a position to modify Schedule 1, therefore we cannot make exceptions for Marsh Harriers and Avocets even though these species are now much commoner than when the list was drawn up. There are other species that should probably be added to it. We would welcome an updated list and in the meantime believe the right course is to err on the side of protecting the birds.
We take considerable trouble to ensure that our news services only report birds where it is safe to do so. In the spring and summer months we do suppress reports of possible breeders from many sensitive sites. We have close links with the RSPB species protection teams, the County Recorders and a variety of other stakeholders to make sure that we do not report birds that are likely to be put at risk. However, our photo approval system is not under such close control. Our team cannot be expected to know (apart from in very obvious situations) whether it is "safe" to approve a photograph of a Schedule 1 bird from a given site. Therefore we have taken the decision that it is safer to reject the photo (unless it has appeared on our news stream).
Given the increasing volume of submissions, and increasing amounts of time spent dealing with complaints, we are concerned that our ability to moderate photos sufficiently carefully and consistently might be jeopardised. Those taking issue may not appreciate that usually we have little or no information on the methods used to obtain photos or the exact details of the circumstances when they were taken. We simply do not have the resources to request reassurance every time a possibly problematic image is posted.
So, we have implemented an automated technical mechanism to help filter submissions. This is inevitably a blunt instrument. The filter was never intended as a rebuke to bird photographers, or as an insinuation that any particular pictures or category of pictures were taken under dubious circumstances. It is unfortunate that some of our more vociferous contributors have taken it that way.
We are investigating the possibility of adding a more flexible "safe sites" system to photographs of Schedule 1 birds for future breeding seasons.
We reserve the right to reject or amend photographs (and their accompanying text) at our discretion and without notice.
The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.