RBBP Potential disturbance and the reporting of rare breeding birds


This page contains 12 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Tue 18/04/17 20:24).

By nature of their rarity, rare breeding birds are vulnerable to disturbance, but to do so deliberately is against the law. Although some species, particularly raptors, are still persecuted by game managers in some areas, there has been an increasing incidence of disturbance by birdwatchers and especially by bird photographers. Although such disturbance may be accidental, inconsiderate or careless behaviour can lead to birds deserting their nests or losing their eggs or young to predators.

Rare breeding birds inevitably attract attention and interest from a wide range of people, most of whom wish them well. Certainly, most birdwatchers would like to be able to watch rare breeders, since by their nature they are not encountered often and are usually very interesting in their breeding habitat, but most people realise that approaching them is likely to cause harm and don't do so. However some individuals wish to harm our rare breeders. This might be because they want to kill them (usually raptors on land used for shooting) or because they want to take their eggs or young for personal satisfaction or gain. Other people may not wish to harm them but could do so by behaving irresponsibly. This would include people trying to take photographs of breeding birds at close range or of nests.

All species of bird are fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) but some species are assigned special protection when at the nest — these species are included in Schedule 1 of the Act. It is an offence to intentionally disturb these birds while they are building a nest, or in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young; or to disturb dependent young even if not in the nest. It is also an offence to recklessly disturb these species, through for instance trying to get a better view by going too close to the birds, leading to the potential for accidental disturbance. Most Schedule 1 species are included in the RBBP List, but there are additional species not on Schedule 1 which are now monitored by RBBP by virtue of their UK breeding population being fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs. Some of these species, such as Common Crane and Little Egret, only began nesting in the UK since 1981.

Golden Oriole
The status of rare breeding species such as Golden Oriole is monitored by RBBP (Photo: Steve Fletcher)

The issue of disturbance by photographers may be growing as more people own high quality equipment, which increases the temptation to approach birds, and some who own photographic equipment may not have the field skills to recognise when disturbance is happening. RBBP has a role in that our data can be used to assess the risks to rare breeders of deliberate crime, as well as reckless disturbance. In the 1990s, the RSPB analysed the susceptibility of rare breeding birds to egg collecting and other threats, assessing this against the birds' population sizes, creating a threat index. RBBP data was used to inform the work, and an updated review of this would be welcome.

In the last 20 years there have been changes in the status of some rare breeding birds and changes to threats; for example, persecution is still affecting the status and distribution of some raptors, egg collecting has declined, but digital photography threats have increased.

The Rare Breeding Birds Panel maintains the main central repository for rare breeding bird records which come from many individuals across the country: information is held securely and only made available to bona fide users for legitimate reasons. We contribute to national schemes which are aimed at monitoring and conservation — that is why the RBBP exists. In terms of wildlife crime we would always make our information available to the Police or other investigators of potential wildlife crime, though in practice this has rarely happened. We have consulted with RSPB Investigations to produce joint guidelines about how to record birds and behave responsibly, including the role of the bird information services in withholding sensitive information (available on the RBBP website). We condemn deliberate or reckless wildlife crime outright and we encourage birdwatchers recording rare breeders to be vigilant and look out for the activities of those who wish to harm birds.

Guidance on the reporting of rare breeding birds

In order to minimise the impact of disturbance on rare breeding birds, while still encouraging the proper reporting of these species, the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, in consultation with RSPB Investigations, has compiled some guidelines on how records of these species should be handled during the breeding season.

The Rare Breeding Birds Panel advocates special caution with regards to making breeding records of all RBBP-listed species public, particularly in the period March to mid-August. Although we encourage sensible monitoring of the breeding attempt, in order to provide information for county recorders and RBBP, observers must always prioritise the interests of the individual birds and the conservation of the species, and avoid disturbing the birds and their nest. A licence for nest monitoring of species on Schedule 1 can be applied for; these are supplied by Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (for disturbance of species nesting in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, respectively). Bird ringers and nest recorders can apply for licences from the BTO.

Details of obtaining a Schedule 1 licence, and the list of species on Schedule 1, are accessible here: www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/taking-part/protected-birds.

The list of species covered by RBBP is available here: www.rbbp.org.uk/rbbp-species-list-full.htm.

It is of course possible to carefully monitoring the activity of a breeding pair from a safe distance without the need to visit the nest and we would encourage this where conditions permit and there is no disturbance to the birds — an example would be observation from a distance or from a permanent hide using telescope and/or binoculars.

Great White Egret
Extreme caution should be exercised if you come across a breeding pair of Great White Egrets (Photo: Carl Bovis)

RSPB and RBBP both believe that the following species are especially vulnerable and we suggest that no records of these species in circumstances suggestive of breeding or potential breeding are publicised during the breeding season unless public viewing has been arranged:

By publicity, we mean reporting to bird news information services (national schemes and local networks) and notifying others via social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Sightings should be submitted, in confidence, to county bird recorders. They can be contacted directly or records can be submitted to them via BirdTrack: this software has measures in place, developed with RBBP, to restrict disclosure of such records to the public via websites or other media. Records submitted in these ways will reach the Secretary of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel so that they can be added to the Panel's secure archives and included in their annual reports, aiding the long-term conservation of these species.

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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.

hide section Reader comments (12)

The issue of disturbance to rare or even 'common' species of birds,seems to be mainly due to the 'New Age Wildlife' enthusiasts, who do not have the skills or the knowledge of what they are observing or photographing. I would also relate this to intentional disturbance by ringers, who for some reason are able to hide behind the guise of science, but are not scientists and purely hobbiests, encouraged by organisations such as the BTO. Sometimes (if not most of the time), the best way to...more more
   Perry, 07/04/17 00:15Report inappropriate post Report 
Another pop at ringers from somebody who clearly knows little about it. Nest recorders will monitor nests and productivity throughout the breeding season. Not all nest monitors are ringers, but some are. Nobody is licensed to do nest monitoring unless they have undergone training for the type of nesting the species they wish to monitor uses. Rare birds can only be monitored at the nest with the permission of Natural England, and requires a special additional licence, specifying the species...more more
   Simon Tucker, 12/04/17 19:28Report inappropriate post Report 
This is a good informative article, there is a lot of (understandable in some cases) ignorance around the subject, many people are of the opinion that if they see something at a Wildlife reserve (such as a nesting Osprey) then it is in a public place and they are free to approach or photograph at will. They don't think they are doing anything wrong and to be honest, if using a long lens from a hide, how can they be? The problem comes from those who try to get a little bit...more more
   Brian Sandison, 13/04/17 09:29Report inappropriate post Report 
Brian Sandison: I agree with you completely. Like many ringers, I am a birder first, a ringer second and a photographer third but the over-riding principle is that the welfare of the birds comes first. Currently I am doing a study of the Blue Tit population in my little part of Wiltshire: it is declining significantly in the area. It seems the problem has been the cold spring weather we have had in the last couple of years reducing recruitment. Information from the BTO's Garden Birdwatch...more more
   Simon Tucker, 13/04/17 09:59Report inappropriate post Report 
Simon Tucker; Anybody can monitor a nest, you only need a licence to disturb, and as the article is about the UK it is not necessarily Natural England who issues the licence... ‘The difference between ringers and others, as one ringer found out after ringing the Desert Wheatear, is that if we step out of line, our licence is taken away and we cannot keep going. Photographers and other bird botherers do not have this sanction.’ ... Wrong, if a schedule 1 bird...more more
   Andy Harmer, 17/04/17 11:57Report inappropriate post Report 
Andy Harmer - unfortunately we see this ill-informed misinformation about ringing all the time. Whilst any photographer clued-in enough to apply for a schedule 1 licence, which comes from Natural England for England (sorry I wasn't 100% accurate on that), is also likely to be sensitive to the welfare of the birds: but how many Schedule 1 photographers are there? What proportion of photographers photographing birds at the nest have a schedule 1 to do so? So you met a ringer frustrated at...more more
   Simon Tucker, 17/04/17 12:35Report inappropriate post Report 
Simon Tucker; Thanks for admitting you were wrong on the licensing, and obviously you were wrong on the monitoring, and about the schedule 1 photographers being immune, and I admire your boldness of then starting the post accusing me of mis-information (though you may have been having a laugh at yourself - well done), and there's nothing wrong with blowing your own trumpet every chance you get so feel free to give us the next installment, or save it for the WI, your choice. Well done on...more more
   Andy Harmer, 17/04/17 19:36Report inappropriate post Report 
Andy Harmer: the reason I posted on this thread was the ignorant comments from Perry. He is typical of the sort of anti-ringing zealot that is far too vocal on these public fora and to whom you clearly want to give succour. I was just slightly inaccurate by conflating England for the whole of the UK for the issuing of schedule 1 licences. Self-monitoring is no monitoring and my experience of photographers is that too many of them are ignorant of the law and ignorant of the impact of their...more more
   Simon Tucker, 18/04/17 13:18Report inappropriate post Report 
Reading the comments above and coming from the North East of Scotland I would have to say I don't personally recognise the types of people or issues being described, so please forgive me for saying that I would like to distance myself from the photographer stereotype that appears may be found in other areas. I am a registered RSPB Volunteer Wildlife Photographer even though I am just a hobbyist (I have a real job, sadly) so I am passionate about wildlife conservation but also keen to...more more
   Brian Sandison, 18/04/17 13:49Report inappropriate post Report 
Brian Sandison: I have to say that I wish that I didn't have these issues with photographers, however, I do. It is not all photographers but particularly, it seems, those who post on social media who cannot resist having a pop at ringing. I named a particularly obnoxious individual because I have documentary proof and witnesses to his behaviour. You must have seen the thread on the Desert Wheatear, which had several photographers crowing about how the ringer who trapped the bird got his...more more
   Simon Tucker, 18/04/17 14:24Report inappropriate post Report 
@Simon - no I have not read many threads on here as yet so I have not seen the Desert Wheatear thread but I did read an article on the BBC news this week about problems with a Welsh Ringer so I realise there are issues other than where I live myself. I have no axe to grind with any group, obviously individuals often do cross swords in all walks of life, especially as you say on Social Media but I prefer to get along with all if I can. With regards ringing, I believe it is a very important...more more
   Brian Sandison, 18/04/17 15:30Report inappropriate post Report 
Like you Brian, I rub along with the local ringers, birders, photographers . I provide a private area of wood, scrub, pond and meadow for ringers etc The 'ringers good, photographers bad' attitude is rare amongst the ringers I know, in fact they love talking about the latest feck-ups, and they're unanimous in their belief that the checks and balances simply don't work as they say there are unbelievably incompetent people with C permits who shouldn't have them. I once asked about an old...more more
   Andy Harmer, 18/04/17 20:24Report inappropriate post Report 

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