Hope soars for UK birds as major collaboration renewed


The chief executives of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reaffirmed their long-standing commitment to the long-term bird monitoring schemes that underpin so much conservation science and action by signing a new agreement.

Birds are vital indicators of how the wider natural world is faring. Monitoring their populations can help us understand what is changing, and guide policies and land management to secure a better future for birds, people and the environment. Much-loved species like Common Swift and Greenfinch are rapidly disappearing from the UK, but others, such as Red Kite, are increasing thanks to dedicated conservation efforts.

Left to right: Beccy Speight of the RSPB, Juliet Vickery of the BTO and JNCC's Dr Gemma Harper sign the new agreement (BTO).

We know this because of the thousands of committed and highly skilled volunteers who give their time to record information about our bird populations. Together with the scientists who interpret the data, they help us to understand more about the ongoing biodiversity crisis, the impacts of climate change, and the urgent need for evidence to guide what we can do to protect nature from these and other threats. The new agreement, a funding partnership that covers the period 2022-2027, is surely needed now more than ever.

For decades, BTO has organised the UK Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), as well as both bird ringing and nest recording. The charity has now taken on additional responsibility for the Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) and the Goose and Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP). This means BTO now delivers the full suite of bird monitoring programmes, providing data on the abundance of around 190 species. BBS, WeBS and SMP are funded jointly by BTO, RSPB and JNCC, while GSMP receives funds from BTO, JNCC and NatureScot.

BTO now organises all major bird monitoring programmes, after taking on additional seabird and wildfowl surveys (Alan Reid via Geograph).

Professor Juliet Vickery, BTO Chief Executive, said: "Citizen science has the power to reveal so much about birds and the natural world. Its extraordinary value also lies in the way it connects people with nature, increasing awareness and engagement at the same time as delivering recognised benefits to health and wellbeing.

"Last year alone our volunteers gave more than two million hours of their time to BTO work. Their dedication is remarkable, but our world is changing. Citizen science gives us exactly the kind of long-term data we need if we want to address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss."

Dr Gemma Harper, JNCC Chief Executive, commented: "Collaboration is at the heart of everything we do and we are delighted to continue to support this critical partnership. Long-term surveillance programmes such as these, and the datasets they produce, have underpinned our work for over 30 years, and are essential to nature conservation and recovery. Only by identifying and understanding how biodiversity is changing can we strive for nature that is diverse, abundant and resilient."

Beccy Speight, RSPB Chief Executive, added: "We’re delighted this vital partnership is to be renewed and developed. During this nature and climate emergency, these critical monitoring schemes enable us to identify, prioritise and, ultimately, resolve the most pressing of conservation threats. Increasing participation to expand the already-impressive volunteer force will mean more data, better analysis, and stronger protection for UK nature. Together, we can really make a difference."