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Winter Bird Surveys

It is generally considered that winter is a quiet time for ecologists and, with many UK protected species going into hibernation, for the most part this is true.  Not so for the ornithologists.  Britain supports a wide range of overwintering bird species, many of which arrive from overseas, and understanding how they use the landscape is of real importance for their conservation.

The majority of winter bird survey work focuses on coastal sites and inland lakes which in the UK support internationally important populations of waders and waterbirds.  However, the importance of inland, terrestrial habitats for birds during the winter months is often overlooked.  For instance, dark bellied Brent geese Branta bernicla bernicla, a qualifying species of many of the Special Protection Areas (SPA) on the east and south coasts, have adapted to use coastal grasslands and the early growth of cultivated cereal crops alongside their traditional feeding areas.

It is not only wetland birds that are an important consideration.  A good example is the skylark Alauda arvensis; a Red-Listed Bird of Conservation Concern synonymous with the English summer.  However, this species is resident in the UK throughout the year, with numbers in many parts of the country boosted during winter by passage migrants and overwintering visitors from north-east Europe.  Wintering skylarks form flocks on farmland and coastal marshes feeding on seed, grain or grazing crop seedlings.

As can be seen from these two examples, development on important winter sites could have a dramatic impact on these and many other species.  With conservation science taking a more holistic view of bird populations, overwintering birds have become a factor that developers must often take into account.

Tags: Birds, Ecological surveys, Ecology, News, Protected species