Sunday, 7 December 2014

BTO Conference


This week-end I attended the annual British Trust for Ornithology Conference at Swanwick, Derbyshire. As always there was a full itinerary which included lectures, workshops and presentations on subjects mostly associated with birds. The theme was 'Birds, people and places'.

The majority of delegates are amateur birdwatchers who devote their time to monitor resident and migrant wild birds and pool their findings for the benefit of all interested in the welfare of our natural avi-fauna.

The Friday evening presentation was orchestrated by Helen McDonald who has researched and provided a personal view of the history of falconry and its links with the naturalist and indeed the culture of rural communities associated with birds of prey in their midst.

On the Saturday morning an input on 'Birds and renewable energy' introduced us to the Collision Risk Model associated with offshore turbines, which predicts the number of bird collisions with offshore installations. It seems that an increase in the size of the turbines but with greater distances between each installation may reduce the likelihood of collisions. It is thought that breeding sea-birds foraging for food and attempting to fly around these installations are most affected when it comes to loss of energy and an increase in physical stress. Migrants are thought to mostly divert around these banks of turbines and simply continue on their journey.

'Birds in a Changing Climate' was associated with global warming, and galvanizing the irrefutable fact that we as a species are increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that the warming affect will adversely affect those organisms on the planet that cannot easily respond and their ultimate extinction. In the birding world, it is generally believed that sea-birds and those birds utilising tropical areas of the world will be most affected.

The Witherby Lecture was entitled Birds in an Urbanising World and provided some stark statistics. It is thought that in the UK there are now only 2.5 breeding birds per human being illustrating a 40% reduction in bird numbers since 1980. The message was that many of the new generation were disengaged with the natural world but that amateur naturalists were doing their best with as many as 7.4 million bird feeders and 4.7 million nest boxes out there! Seemingly 25% of our bird species comprise 95% of all breeding individuals, reflecting that there are some species doing well but a disturbing large number of species that are clearly not. Highlighting environmental growth not sustainability was a key message.

The last session of the morning included the award of medals, there being two recipients this year. Our very own Dave Francis was awarded the Tucker medal for his contribution and outstanding services to the BTO, as presented by Chris Packham. Very fitting, particularly as it was Dave's 70th Birthday too!

The Saturday afternoon sessions included an update on the Breeding Bird Survey which has been running since 1994 and Mark Thomas from the RSPB provided a powerful presentation associated with wildlife crime, particularly raptor prosecution. A lively presentation about the Nest Record Scheme was well-delivered.

This morning there were a series of individual inspirational presentations by young naturalists ('New Generation Birders') aged 12-16 years and why birds and their monitoring had illuminated their lives. Amazing stuff and a breath of fresh air and a taste of hope that there are youngsters out there who are prepared to pick up the baton! And of course it falls to us to inspire and mentor the next generations.

'Keeping Track of Birds' highlighted the use of technology to enhance our knowledge of migrating birds, not surprisingly the Cuckoo, Nightingale and Swift were many of the examples. Stop-overs in Africa and inter-continent migration appears related to the timing of rain-fall, particularly following periods of drought and the related response by insects such as termites. 'Flight Lines' is a BTO-led project at linking art, imagery and science to reach out and influence and engage new audiences, and our last main-line presentation.

Another very good conference which provided plenty of information and opportunity for the future. More details will be documented via the BTO website -  - plus plenty of other information too...


Neil M

Dave and Sue Francis
tackling the Birthday cake!

Photo courtesy of Helen Franklin

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