Bucking the National Trend

As well as being a fully-qualified ringer and ringing trainer, I have been a member of and contributor to the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch scheme for over 10 years. In fact,  I do talks all over Wiltshire to gardening clubs, Women’s Institute branches and U3A on the wildlife in gardens, in an effort to encourage a much participation in the scheme as possible.  Data is a powerful tool.

There are many benefits to belonging to the scheme: an excellent magazine and a regular e-newsletter, summarising latest data and trends from the scheme are always a good read.  This morning I received the latest e-newsletter and was interested to find this little snippet under the headline: 2019 Breeding season first findings.

“We now have a preliminary report on the 2019 breeding season. Many species laid eggs significantly earlier than average, possibly due to record breaking February temperatures.

Several familiar garden species seemed to do very well. Numbers of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long-tailed Tits were higher than average at the beginning of the breeding season. Each pair that bred produced a higher than average number of chicks.

However, it wasn’t all good news. Numbers of Blackbirds and Dunnocks encountered by bird ringers were the lowest since records began nearly 40 years ago.

This made me wonder what the situation was with those two species at our sites, so I did a quick analysis of the data and am delighted to find that, in our parts of Wiltshire at least, there has been no such calamity:


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In fact, 2019 was the second best year for ringing both species since the North Wilts group split off at the end of 2012. It was also the second best year for retrapping Dunnock, and the retrap rate for Blackbird was on a par with other years.

I suspect that one of the key reasons for this is the habitats that we ring in.  Most of our ringing is done in properties owned or managed by the Wildlife Trust or the Forestry Commission, with a couple of sites on Salisbury Plain. In effect, there is little intensive agriculture near any of our sites.  Certainly in the area of the Braydon Forest most of the agriculture is beef and sheep.  Consequently, there is little by way of pesticide and herbicide spraying and some excellent hedgerows.  Really, all we have to worry about is the odd farmer who doesn’t seem to understand that their hedgerows are a protected habitat between 1st April and 31st August inclusive. Clearly that is an issue for Dunnock, more than Blackbird, but it doesn’t help.

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