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Bird survey insights from our Principal Ecologist

Another insightful and rewarding bird survey season has just ended at Environment Bank. Despite the 5 am wake-up calls, it’s always a great experience. We spoke to Rob Wreglesworth, our Principal Ecologist and Innovation Lead, to learn more about this year’s results.

What is the purpose of bird surveys?

"We complete bird surveys to get a better understanding of the baseline biodiversity of each site so that we can determine what is present and what is absent. This helps us design the measures we need to take to restore certain species.

But bird surveys are just one part of our baseline analysis, not our sole focus. They help us to design effective, biodiverse habitat banks and introduce appropriate strategies to achieve the best results for nature – benefitting a multitude of species, not just birds."

What do you look for during surveys?

"We are looking to monitor all bird species and track any changes over time. These changes help indicate whether the work we are doing is having a positive impact on biodiversity.

There are often specific species we focus on at a particular site. For example, there are a couple of areas in the north of England that are very important for curlew, a species currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because they are under threat and their numbers are depleting.

On our sites in Harrogate and Bolton, we work to increase the abundance of curlew. Curlew used to be very prominent in the north, but human impacts on the environment, including things like intensive farming practices, have caused populations to decline significantly."

Are there any other birds in particular that you’re trying to attract?

"Another bird we’re trying to help is the lapwing, a species found on farmland throughout the UK, particularly in lowland areas of northern England. Identified as near threatened on the global IUCN Red List, we’re eager to see more lapwing in the UK.

We also work to increase populations of other endangered birds, including oystercatcher and grey partridge, both of which have declined in the British countryside.

Finally, there have been sightings of nightingales next to one of our sites in Lincolnshire. Unfortunately, populations of nightingales have declined due to the loss of scrub. Our goal with this Habitat Bank is to restore scrubland so that nightingales can sing their beautiful song here again."

What other measures are you putting in place for species restoration?

"To attract curlew and lapwing, we’re establishing wet grassland and shallow scrapes. Scrapes are very shallow ponds that keep wetlands thriving, holding water on a seasonal basis. They also create visible wet features that are very appealing to wildlife and can provide important feeding areas for breeding wading birds and their chicks.

There is also a nesting barn owl on our site in Harrogate who will also benefit from the introduction of a habitat bank."

What does this mean for those managing the site?

"This type of habitat is low maintenance which means that the landowners and farmers overseeing it will be able to easily manage their new responsibilities alongside their current land use.

Sustainable land management strategies will be adopted by farmers to mitigate the impact of silage production on curlew and lapwing nests within the grass. Grass should be left to grow so that nests can be protected and the number of birds can multiply."

What’s next for Environment Bank’s surveying capability?

"Environment Bank is currently reviewing our approach to bird surveys. Instead of using members of the team to manually record findings and sounds, we are looking into modern sensors and recording equipment to increase the frequency of data gathering, and to allow us to gather more accurate data."