Nightingales & Peregrines
Nightingales Up & Down
The results of a national Nightingale Survey are reported in this month`s Bird Study, the journal of the BTO. 4,565 singing birds were counted by 1,000 volunteers. Landowners keen to encourage Nightingales can send for a habitat management leaflet. Over 3,000 traditional Nightingale sites were visited by volunteers in the summer of 1999 and 4,565 singing males were recorded. Fieldwork by BTO staff, who spent many a night on the look out for uncharted birds, showed that volunteers had found 68% of singing birds, suggesting a true population of 6,700 pairs.
Nightingales have disappeared from many counties in the last 50 years but the extent of declines between 1980 and 1999 is astounding. 70% or more have been lost from Avon, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Oxford and Wiltshire. The only counties not to see losses were Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk and Sussex, which now hold over three-quarters of the country`s Nightingales. Nightingales have long been associated with coppice woodland but the BTO survey has shown that scrub is now really important. Nearly half of Nightingales were found in scrub sites, in areas such as old gravel workings and in fenland edges. Traditional Nightingale sites on hill slopes throughout southern England have now been abandoned in favour of damp locations in river valleys. These changes could be due to climate factors, falling water tables, loss of habitat, or a reduction in the Nightingale`s food of large ground dwelling insects.
A Nightingale habitat leaflet is
available from BTO Nightingales, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU. Please supply an A5 stamped addressed envelope. For
further information please contact:
Mixed fortunes for peregrine
A national survey of peregrines in Scotland (as part of a UK wide survey) was last carried out in 1991, when a total of 625 breeding pairs (1,283 in the UK) were recorded. Plans for a repeat survey in 2001 had to be shelved because of restricted access to the countryside as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak. In 2002, data for Central, East and South West Scotland indicate that although the overall number of breeding pairs found was about the same, the number of successful nests (where at least 1 nestling fledged) was considerably less in 2002 than 1991. Conversely, peregrines breeding in coastal areas appear to have bred more successfully in 2002 than 1991. Much of the failure is likely to have been due to severe weather in spring and early summer. Other trends reported by fieldworkers include reduced occupancy of a number of traditional breeding sites in upland areas, notably on some areas with grouse moors. There are also some reports of suspected persecution of the birds, for instance in parts of south-east and north-east Scotland. These factors will be examined in more detail once all the data have been returned.
The picture emerging in 2002 is rather different from 1991, when the results indicated that peregrines had recovered from a population crash in the 1960`s caused by the use of organochlorine pesticides. This was heralded as a success for wildlife conservation and proof that the environmental threat posed by these chemicals had been overcome in most areas of the UK. Scottish Natural Heritage chairs the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Group, which includes the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish Raptor Study Groups, British Trust for Ornithology, the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland and the Scottish Ornithologists` Club. Professor Des Thompson, Principal Uplands Advisor for SNH and Chair of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Group, said: These early signs are worrying, not least because the peregrine is known to be such a good indicator of the health of the environment. We are fortunate to be receiving preliminary results so quickly from the Scottish Raptor Study Groups
Professor Jeremy Greenwood, Director of the British Trust for Ornithology, said: This survey shows yet again the immense contribution that volunteers make to our knowledge of bird populations. This year, the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and other birdwatchers covered almost the whole of Scotland, including the remotest areas. The apparent poor breeding success is disappointing but until the data have been fully analysed we shall not know whether it was just a particularly poor season or a sign of a long-term pattern.
Patrick Stirling-Aird, of the Scottish Raptor Study Groups, said: While this year`s poor weather, with its impact on breeding success, may have been a one-off event, there is concern about the longer term trends, in certain parts of Scotland, of desertion of many peregrine territories that were occupied at the time of the last national survey in 1991. Detailed analysis of the survey results will have to be carried out but preliminary indications are that, while peregrine numbers appear to have gone up in certain lowland areas, there are alarming reports of decreases in some upland areas. There is evidence from some upland locations that peregrine territories are unoccupied as a result of persistent criminal persecution in the supposed interests of red grouse management. In other cases, however, the underlying cause of territory desertion may be reduced numbers of prey species, something that touches on fundamental land management practices in the uplands.
Dr Jeremy Wilson, Head of Research for RSPB Scotland said: Scotland holds nationally and internationally important populations of Peregrine Falcons. We are delighted that this latest survey of Peregrines by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and BTO is producing results so quickly, and we hope that the poor weather turns out to explain this year`s apparently low breeding success. However, we await complete analyses of the data with keen interest, as these will tell us whether there are longer terms trends in peregrine populations that should give us greater cause for concern.
Birds of prey are amongst the
most threatened birds in Scotland due to habitat loss, persecution and poisoning. Despite their legal protection under the Wildlife
and Countryside Act (1981) around a third of re-introduced red kites in Scotland are believed to have died from eating poisoned bait,
and up to 15% of breeding female hen harriers are thought to be deliberately killed each year. For more information contact:
Created: 1st Nov 2002
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