Connecting birding communities through our Regional Network
Robert Chapman, Murray Orchard and Eve Tigwell
Our Regional Network is made up of a group of our wonderful volunteers who represent BTO in their local areas, coordinating surveys and supporting other volunteers.
In the third and final Regional Network miniseries blog, we spoke to three of our volunteers who have formed strong connections with other birdwatching groups and communities: Robert Chapman and Eve Tigwell, who link BTO to their local bird clubs and societies, and Murray Orchard, who has shared his survey volunteering experience with interns and students.
Read our other Regional Network miniseries blog posts:
Robert Chapman: Regional Representative (York)
I’m the Regional Representative for the ‘Yorkshire York’ region of BTO – that’s effectively the Vale of York, which is mainly lowland, with only a few hills in the northern reaches.
My survey year starts with contacting regular surveyors for the annual surveys to make sure sites are still covered. I then contact potential surveyors who might take on any sites where people have dropped out. Later in the season, I get queries from surveyors who may have come across problems in the field – for instance, new access issues such as vegetation growth, fields full of cows or even landowner difficulties – or need advice on methods.
I try to get a newsletter written towards the end of the year, with the help of BTO staff. It’s a good way of giving a local angle on the work to our members, supporters and surveyors. I’m also on the committee of the local bird club in York, which helps spread the word, and encourage people to become volunteers and hopefully members. I also use Twitter, which is an interactive means of reaching a wider audience.
I must thank all surveyors for taking part. It’s really rewarding to talk to people about the work of BTO, to encourage new people to join in and to help them gain confidence to take something on. It makes me feel like I’m contributing to the understanding of the changes that are going on with our bird populations, and it’s fantastic to see the community of people supporting the work of BTO grow.
It’s really rewarding to talk to people about the work of BTO, to encourage new people to join in and to help them gain confidence to take something on... it’s fantastic to see the community of people supporting the work of BTO grow.Robert Chapman, BTO Regional Representative (York)
Murray Orchard: Heronries Census Local Organiser (Hertfordshire) and counter (Kent)
Alongside volunteering for several other BTO surveys, I’m also involved in the Heronries Census.
In Hertfordshire, I’m the Local Organiser, coordinating coverage for 12 sites across the county. A loyal bunch of counters survey these sites each year, leaving me to just chase up and approve or validate the data. In Kent, however, the boot is on the other foot and I’m one of those doing the counting!
The site I help to count is RSPB Northward Hill, which hosts one of the largest heronries in the UK. The Grey Herons now nest in oak trees, but originally did so in elm trees, before they succumbed to Dutch elm disease.
The majority of the oak trees are numbered in and around the heronry: 144 of them! The task is to visit each tree and log the number of heron nests. Judging the number of active nests is not always easy, especially with Kent’s largest rookery sharing many of the same trees.
The Heronry Census counts here are often shared with RSPB reserve interns, and provides great insight for them into the breeding habits of the herons and egrets. Last year a university student and her tutor collected and analysed heron pellets for her degree, and the published results made for fascinating reading.
The Heronry Census counts are often shared with RSPB reserve interns, and provides great insight for them into the breeding habitats of herons and egrets, as well as survey methodology.Murray Orchard, Heronries Census Local Organiser (Hertfordshire) and counter (Kent)
Eve Tigwell: Regional Representative (Somerset)
Being a Regional Representative is great fun! You get to meet and work with fantastically committed people whilst improving everyone’s knowledge of wildlife in general, and of birds in particular. What more could you ask for?
A network made up of fellow volunteers and staff is essential to the BTO’s overall ethos of ‘Birds, Science, People’; a triumvirate that supports so many conservation initiatives. Without all the wonderfully enthusiastic and skilled surveyors who go out and collect data, there would be little evidence of the fall, and occasional rise, in our bird populations; and no evidence to support theories on why these changes are occurring. Without data, the talented and committed BTO staff wouldn’t be able to turn those data into reports about changes and theories. Between these two essential sectors stands the Regional Representative: a conduit for communication, a recruiter of surveyors, a mentor for other volunteers, and a data-checker.
If this all sounds a bit much, it isn’t! As a one-person team, I spend the bulk of my time communicating with existing surveyors and recruiting new ones for any gaps in all the surveys; this is achieved mainly through emails and newsletters, although some individuals appreciate a chat on the phone occasionally.
I’m fortunate that my region has a supportive county bird club (Somerset Ornithological Society), whose committee I have joined, and I am able to advertise surveys on their website. The annual Somerset Gathering (pre-COVID-19) was a great opportunity to meet up with surveyors, and for them to meet each other; the discussion session, with tea and cakes, always required more time than the presentations!
The annual Somerset Gathering was a great opportunity to meet up with surveyors, and for them to meet each other; the discussion session, with tea and cakes, always required more time than the presentations!Eve Tigwell, BTO Regional Representative (Somerset)
Towards the end of the main survey season, there’s a need to check all those data, not to question surveyors’ ID skills (they’re brilliant!), but to weed out any typing errors that the computer system hasn’t picked up (did you really see a Stone Curlew on the Levels?).
Where’s the fun in all that? It’s in meeting, working with and supporting so many amazing, like-minded people who have a common aim, and being involved in something to do with birds!
Join our Regional Network
Do you love your local herons? Enjoy chatting with your local birding network about how they can help? Are you familiar with the Breeding Bird Survey and know your area well? Or are you mad for ducks and waders and want to help with the Wetland Bird Survey?
If the answer to any of these is “Yes!”, then we’d love to hear from you. There are vacancies in the Regional Network across Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.
BTO is here to help and we have staff across the four nations, as well as Survey Organisers, all happy to give help and support whenever needed.
Looking for more inspiration? Read the first post in our Regional Network miniseries, where three of our volunteers explain why they got involved.
Making the most of BirdTrack data
We have been working to produce useful summaries for bird reports using data from the millions of annual BirdTrack records.
Why become a BTO Regional Network volunteer?
In the first of our Regional Network blog miniseries, we speak to Stephen, David and Nick about why they started volunteering and the changes they’ve seen since then.