News archive

July 2016

Friday, 29 July 2016


It is now fully booked, but anyone wanting to go on the waiting list in case anyone cancels their place nearer the time should email Sue at - no need to send money until a place becomes available.


We have booked the solar boat for a 1 hour birdwatching cruise of Chichester harbour exclusively for our group on Wednesday 9th November. The cost of the trip is £7 per head.

The trip leaves from the quay at Itchenor, adjacent to the harbour conservancy office, departing promptly at 12.00 noon and returning 1.30pm. Tea coffee and biscuits available on board (donation to charity) or take your own refreshments (but no glass please). Meet on the raised viewing platform in front of the harbour conservancy office (PO20 7AW) no later than 11.45 to allow time for boarding.

Numbers are strictly limited to 30, so places are available on first come first served basis; early booking advised! Please note, ticket price is non-refundable unless the trip is cancelled by the boat operators.

From Stockbridge roundabout on the A27 take the A286 towards the Witterings, at the mini roundabout just past the Nisa Store at Birdham take second turn-off (B2179, West Wittering) then turn right a few hundred yards after Russells garden centre following signs to Itchenor and continue to the end of the road. The Harbour Conservancy Office is the last building on the left opposite the waters edge.

Parking - pay and display car park signposted off The Street just before the Ship Inn when approaching the quay. (Price £2 for 2 hours, £3.50 up to 4 hours)
Loo - adjacent to the harbour conservancy office on the quay, and on boat (basic!)

To book please complete the form below and hand to me at one of our evening meetings or post WITH CHEQUE payable to RSPB Chichester Local Group to
Sue Phillips, 44 Church Road, East Wittering, Chichester, West Sussex PO20 8PS

Please note; due to the risk of cancellation at very short notice by the boat operators in the event of bad weather etc, it is vital that, when booking, you provide an email address and/or phone number where you can be contacted, and we recommend that you check email and phone messages before setting out.


Please book me....................places at £7 per person



Email ................................................

Cheque enclosed for £.............................

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Satellite-tracking study links population declines to Cuckoo's choice of migration route

Satellite-tracking study links population declines to Cuckoo's choice of migration route

Researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have spent the past five years studying the routes used by Cuckoos as they migrate between their breeding grounds in Britain and their African wintering quarters. This work has revealed three startling pieces of new information, published in the journal Nature Communications.

By fitting the birds (42 male Cuckoos) with tiny devices, which allow each bird's location to be tracked by satellites, the researchers have confirmed that, as suspected, many of our Cuckoos leave Britain in the autumn and fly to Italy, before crossing the Mediterranean and the Sahara to winter in Africa. The tags have revealed that the birds winter in the western part of the Congo rainforest, something we didn't know before.

Some birds, however, use a second route, through Spain and on to West Africa, something that was completely unexpected. What's more, after arriving in West Africa and having crossed the Sahara, these birds take a left turn and make their way to the same central African wintering grounds as the birds that migrated via Italy. This is the first time that science has recorded birds taking two such distinct routes to the same destination - usually divergence in routes leads to the occupancy of different wintering grounds. Interestingly, all of the birds make their spring migration via the western route, regardless of the route used the previous autumn.

The second piece of new information may help to explain why Cuckoo populations are in decline across much of Britain. The study has revealed that the route that a Cuckoo takes to get to its African wintering grounds could mean the difference between life and death. The unusual migration pattern allowed BTO scientists to assess the mortality rates associated with use of each of the two routes. Up to the point where the birds had completed their crossing of the Sahara desert, there was a marked difference with birds travelling via Italy surviving better than those travelling via Spain. This is the first time that differences in mortality have been attributed to differences in migration route.

Not only did survival rates of tagged birds differ between the two routes, but so did the origins of the birds within Britain leading to the third major finding. All of the birds tagged in Scotland and Wales, where the species is not doing too badly, took the more successful eastern route via Italy. Whereas across England, where 71% of breeding Cuckoos have been lost during the last 25 years, local populations were made up of variable mixtures of birds taking either route. Using information on Cuckoo breeding populations from Bird Atlas 2007-11 and the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey, the study found that across tagging locations in the UK, the proportion of birds using the less successful route via Spain correlates strongly with local population decline. This is the first time that mortality on migration has been linked to breeding population decline.

Chris Hewson, lead scientist on the project , said: 'Understanding migratory birds and their population declines is very difficult because they may only be with us on the breeding grounds for a couple of months of each year. Until recently, we had very limited information on where Cuckoos and other long distance migrants went or what they did for most of the rest of the time. This study shows that by satellite-tracking them, we can uncover not only their migration routes and wintering locations but also information about patterns of survival that is potentially vital for understanding why they are disappearing so fast.'

Migrant birds such as the Cuckoo fuel their migratory flights by storing fat in their bodies, and it seems that those feeding up in the western part of the Mediterranean might be finding this harder to do than those in the east. This could be as a result of climate change, such as the recent late-summer droughts in Spain, reducing the abundance of the high-energy invertebrates that the Cuckoos need to fuel a desert crossing. What's more, the study suggests these birds may undertake more fattening in the UK before they begin their migration than birds heading out via Italy. This would leave them especially vulnerable to the declines in moths (whose caterpillars are their main prey) that have been especially severe in the south of England, where these birds breed.

There are currently 12 satellite-tagged Cuckoos making their way to Africa. Anyone can follow and sponsor these birds as they make their way to the Congo rainforest during the next couple of months at

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Turtle dove

Turtle Dove population crashes to new low

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, published today [7 July 2016], has revealed that Turtle Dove numbers have hit a new low, declining by 93 per cent since 1994. This trend is mirrored across Europe, with a decline of 78 per cent between 1980 and 2013.

Turtle Doves spend the winter in West Africa, arriving back to the UK in April to breed. Once in the UK, they prefer areas of bare ground with open water and mature scrub areas in which to nest, with a plentiful supply of seed to feed their young. Before the BBS began in 1994, changes in land management had already impacted the population greatly and the species has continued to decline to this day. The highest remaining breeding densities occur in eastern and southern England, and they have now disappeared from large areas of the country.

One cause for this decline is thought to be the lack of seed from arable plants, which historically formed the bulk of Turtle Dove diet during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeding season with fewer nesting attempts. The trichomonosis parasite, better known for driving Greenfinch declines, has also been recorded in a high proportion of Turtle Doves in recent years and may be having an impact.

Hunting pressures during the Turtle Dove's migration through southern Europe is thought to impact on the population, although assessing the scale of this effect is difficult because the relevant data on the number of birds being killed is hard to come by. Further pressures in their wintering grounds of West Africa are also thought to be potential factors behind the decline, with changes in both climate and land-use reducing over-winter food availability.

Sarah Harris, BBS Organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said: "As a child, Turtle Dove used to nest at my local patch, Rye Meads, in Hertfordshire but the last singing male was recorded there in 2008. Structured volunteer surveys, such as the Breeding Bird Survey, rely completely on the generosity and dedication of thousands of volunteers across the UK to turn general observations like this into facts and figures that help us keep an eye on birds such as Turtle Dove. Our thanks go out to each and every BBS volunteer."

Anna Robinson, Monitoring Ecologist at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, added: "The evocative call of the Turtle Dove was once a more common addition to our summer soundscape. The BBS has been a valuable tool in showing the extent of decline, and has triggered conservation efforts. 'Operation Turtle Dove' ( is carrying out a range of targeted actions including promoting Turtle Dove-friendly land management to farmers through agri-environment schemes. Let's hope the BBS will detect a positive impact from this effort in the future."

Dr Mark Eaton, RSPB Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, said: "The Turtle Dove is the UK's fastest declining bird and, given the matching decline across Europe, is now considered at risk of global extinction. If we are to prevent it going the way of the Dodo, we need urgent coordinated conservation action, with farmers and conservationists working together to create the best conditions for them on our farmland. The efforts of farmers helping Operation Turtle Dove offers this iconic species a lifeline."

For more information on this year's Breeding Bird Survey report, head to

Monday, 4 July 2016

Night skies awarded star status

Night skies awarded star status

RSPB Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks are within easy reach of millions of people in London and southeast England, and fall within the South Downs National Park (SDNP), which has recently been awarded the International Dark-sky Association International Dark Sky Reserve status following a successful bid. It is the second in England and only the 11th in the world to be awarded this status.

Dan Oakley, South Downs National Park Senior Ranger, known as 'Dark-skies' Dan, and his group of dedicated volunteers spent three years mapping out the quality of night skies across the National Park. Skies over the Pulborough Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks reserves have been measured and placed within bronze level status, meaning that on clear nights the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye.

The special status will protect the new Dark Skies Reserve from light pollution, meaning anyone from astronomers to amateur star gazers can enjoy far off stars and galaxies without the glow of street lights masking the view. It also offers people, plants and animals a break from an otherwise degraded nocturnal environment.

J. Scott Feierabend, Executive Director of the IDA, said: "We are pleased to announce the designation of South Downs National Park as an IDA Dark Sky Reserve. It is remarkable that a true dark-sky experience remains within reach of nearly 17 million people in Greater London and southeast England, and a testament to the hard work of South Downs staff and area residents in keeping it that way."

Visitors to RSPB Pulborough Brooks can get closer to nocturnal nature thanks to a series of after dark events throughout June and July. Night time safaris offer the chance to see bats, owls, glow worms and the elusive nightjar, and the RSPB's annual Big Wild Sleepout event, taking place 29th to 31st July, allows guests to book an overnight stay on the reserve.

Anna Allum, Visitor Experience Manager at RSPB Pulborough Brooks said: "The night sky is one of the most beautiful of natural wonders and with Big Wild Sleepout just around the corner, this is the perfect opportunity for children, families and nature lovers to sleep out under the stars in their own gardens, nearby nature reserve or outdoor spaces. It's the perfect time to practise your stargazing, explore the moon and discover nearby planets such as Jupiter, Mars and Venus."