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Rippingale columnist finds the environment is changing in British Trust for Ornithology surveys

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I have participated in wildlife surveys for many years, writes Rippingale columnist Ian Misselbrook.

One survey I commenced only 11 years ago is a breeding bird survey of an area selected by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), only 11 miles from my home. On my first visit with the regional BTO representative I was delighted with the two transects I had been allocated. The first was down a green lane and included some lovely hedgerows, floristically rich limestone grassland and the top prize of a disused quarry.

The second transect down some hedgerows across predominantly arable land was also very nice as the farmer was keen on shooting and conservation and had left areas of grassland in the middle of his wheat fields. He had also sown wide grass margins around the edges of all his fields. The survey area also included a small deciduous wood.

Yellow wagtail. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Yellow wagtail. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

Peregrine falcons and ravens nested in the quarry along with a huge colony of jackdaws as well as a good variety of small birds such as linnets, yellowhammers and whitethroats. The survey requires at least two visits, one at the start of the nesting season and another later on, in late May or June. After each visit the species of birds and mammals encountered including numbers of individuals are uploaded onto a national database so that the BTO and other participating conservation organisations can monitor trends and assess the impact of any changes to the landscape.

I only really appreciated the value of the survey I was undertaking three years ago when the farmer became too ill to farm and a farming company took over.They immediately took out the blocks of flower rich grassland, ploughed out the grass margins and drilled arable crops from field edge to field edge. They also felled the little wood. To cap it all and produce the perfect storm the quarry was reopened!

To mitigate the affects of the quarry a small area adjacent was sown with a grass/wildflower mix and planted with native shrubs and trees. This has proved to be attractive to insects and small birds, but the peregrines and ravens no longer nest in the quarry and even the jackdaw colony has diminished by 75 per cent. In July and August I will be counting the butterflies along both transects, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the changes.

Lesser whitethroat. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Lesser whitethroat. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

However, all is not doom and gloom as nature can be very resilient and highlights of my bird survey this spring included a pair of beautiful yellow wagtails, a lesser whitethroat and a singing corn bunting in the newly created land adjacent to the quarry,as well as plenty of farmland songbirds in the hedgerows, which happily have not been taken out or over maintained.

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