BTO creates maps to help breeding waders


Britain's declining waders have been given a boost thanks to new 'sensitivity maps' developed by scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and published in the Journal for Nature Conservation.

Researchers used data from a number of sources to show where threatened species including Eurasian Curlew and Northern Lapwing are most vulnerable to habitat change.

This information has been made available to inform both high-level planning policy and decisions made at the local level.

The new maps will help to ensure that breeding waders, such as Northern Lapwing, are not impacted by tree planting (R Thew).

Recent years have seen a growing amount of open habitat planted with trees as a way of mitigating climate change. While this can provide many environmental benefits, it can also have negative impacts on the breeding habitats of ground-nesting waders. The authors argue that areas important for our internationally significant breeding wader populations must be taken into account when policies that could affect them are considered. These populations are monitored at a national scale, however, so detailed information on their distributions has not previously been available to policymakers.

BTO scientists addressed the problem by producing maps of wader abundance across Britain at a 1-km resolution. These used data from the Bird Atlas 2007-11 along with a wide range of environmental datasets to model the abundances of 10 species of breeding wader. These predictions were then checked for their reliability using the ongoing BTO/RSPB/JNCC Breeding Bird Survey and other sources. This is a great example of using BTO-led citizen science data to deliver practical outputs that inform land use and conservation.

Dr Mark Wilson, BTO Scotland Research Ecologist and paper author, said: "These maps will help decision-makers to use our knowledge of breeding wader distributions effectively when planning and evaluating land-use changes. The maps can be used to determine the risk posed by proposed developments such as woodland creation to breeding waders, in order to inform decisions about these proposals or to decide whether there is a need for site-specific surveys.

"This study also demonstrates how vital citizen science contributions are to BTO's research. This study would not have been possible without the invaluable information collected by Bird Atlas and Breeding Bird Survey volunteers."

The maps are freely available at app.bto.org/wader-map.