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Park Life?.

Urban Sanctuaries Surveyed

Interacting with birds has a positive impact on our everyday lives, to the extent that the Government uses birds as one of its quality of life indicators. But how can we increase the diversity of birds in our urban green spaces? This is exactly what the British Trust for Ornithology set out to discover.

Hundreds of volunteers from all over London surveyed over 300 of the capital’s public green spaces plus numerous private gardens. These data form the basis of the recently completed British Trust for Ornithology’s London Bird Project which aimed to assess the value of the city’s green spaces for birds and to suggest ways of managing them for their benefit. The aims were achieved by using a three-pronged approach utilising data from different sources. Firstly, a novel survey was carried out by 230 volunteers who surveyed public green spaces across London between summer 2002 and spring 2004, ranging from tiny squares and public gardens to parks, cemeteries and recreation grounds. Habitat data were also recorded so that bird density could be related to habitat availability. Data were also analysed from two existing projects: the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and the BTO/CJ Wildbird Foods Garden Birdwatch (GBW). Patterns of abundance over time and habitat association of bird species were investigated using these three data sources for the Greater London area.Su Gough, Research Ecologist for the British Trust for Ornithology and one of the report’s authors said, “Clinically tidy parks may look aesthetically pleasing but they certainly aren’t the best for birds. Having a little extra vegetation makes all the difference and by sacrificing perfectly manicured open spaces we get the added benefit of sharing our space with birds and other wildlife”

Small changes can have a big impact. For instance, leaving strips of longer grass at the edges of large open areas such as playing fields increases insect diversity, which in turn provides important food for birds. Also, the planting of bushes around trees and around park edges gives birds a refuge in which to hide from predators. The careful placing of nest boxes in suitable areas with food and vegetation cover can mean that a much greater number are actually utilised by birds.“This study represents a huge increase in our understanding of the distribution of birds in urban green spaces. It also gives us a set of simple management rules that can be applied, to maintain and increase bird diversity in our parks and other public spaces”, Su adds.

In total, 90 species were recorded and a staggering 50,000 lines of information were collected. This gave rise to a set of guidelines for how best to manage public spaces for birds. Under a series of easy to implement categories such as grass, trees, bushes, buildings, recommendations were made as how to best maximise these urban green spaces for the benefit of birds and other wildlife. The top six bird species in London’s urban green spaces were Blackbird (96% of sites - average year round), Wood Pigeon 93%, Crow 90%, Blue Tit 89%, Magpie 86% and Robin 85%.

While this project concentrated on Greater London, the results and recommendations are applicable to any urban green space in any city or town in the United Kingdom. The leaflet arising from the London Bird Project “Managing habitat for birds and other wildlife in urban green spaces” is available as an electronic version which can be downloaded from the BTO website at http://www.bto.org

4th July 2014