August, 2017

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Saving Species

The need for species conservation has never been greater. Despite notable successes in improving the fortunes of a number of bird species, more are being forced onto the list of those that need attention, both globally and in the UK. If we want to have a
  • Montagu’s harriers - 2017 breeding update

    During the 2017 breeding season five Montagu’s harrier pairs were located; four were successful and produced a total of 12 fledged youngsters. The fifth pair nested (SW England) but failed after the un-tagged male disappeared for unknown reasons.

    A typical nest in barley containing three healthy juveniles 

    One of the nests was a relay, as the first clutch was predated whilst at egg stage. One pair was in Norfolk with four pairs elsewhere in England. Sally, the satellite-tagged Norfolk adult female, which was featured on BBC Winterwatch vanished in questionable circumstances recently - read our blog here.

    Once hatched all four nests were fenced to stop predators and enable farming operations to continue without any accidental damage. Harvesting successfully took place at all four sites before any of the juveniles were flying.

    RSPB's Mark Thomas praising the farming community for helping this species in the UK

    All the juveniles were fitted with unique lettered Darvic rings, bringing the total to 25 juveniles fitted with rings over the past two years. This should prove invaluable in calculating return rates and site fidelity.  Amazingly we have already seen a juvenile ringed in SW England on 20th July (with the letters 'FX') sighted abroad, in Holland at Vlieland on 21st August, an amazing movement and a surprising direction. Another ringed juvenile bird seen at Winterton, Norfolk  last week was from the same brood in SW England but frustratingly the full ring details could not be seen. We urge birders to look out for these rings on any Montagu’s harrier they are fortunate to see, sighting can be reported to

    'FX' ringed in SW England on 20/7 and photographed in Holland on 21/8 - amazing !

    Four birds previously satellite tagged in England returned to breed including Mark (2014), Roger (2015), Beatrice (2016) and Sally (2016). Mark is the longest standing harrier that we have tagged and it was frustrating this year that the aerial from his tag came off, affecting his signals but not his ability to father four more juveniles. In partnership with the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation three new adult birds were satellite tagged, males James and John and female Ruth, this work was again kindly sponsored by The Sound Approach.

    Raymond Klaassen of the Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation about to release James, a new satellite tagged male

    The undoubted highlight of the year was the catching of two new adult female birds - Ruth and ‘GL’. Both were found to be wearing BTO metal rings and incredibly are sisters from the same brood of chicks ringed in Dorset in 2004! - when they were filmed being ringed by Chris Packham as part of a BBC Inside Out TV programme!. Ruth hadn’t been specifically seen since 2004 but we know that ‘GL’ had toured around southern England for a few summers, had attempted to nest on the Humber in 2015 and has been breeding successfully in SW England for the past two summers! These are sensational harriers and if wintering in Senegal then they will have each flown around 65,000 miles on migration alone !

    Ruth - a 13 year old adult female !

    This really is a watershed moment - proven UK born juveniles returning to breed and surviving 13 years.

    Not only have both of these birds set a new UK longevity record but together with the fact that all of our returning satellite-tagged adults have returned to their previous years breeding sites this shows we have a defined UK population which requires continuing conservation effort.

    'Put simply, excluding new recruits, ringing and tagging has proven that we only have ten returning adult Montagu's Harriers left in the UK population and the continuing survival of these birds and their juveniles is essential'.

    In trying to understand how we increase the UK population we now have to solve the final piece of the jigsaw - what happens to the bulk of our fledged juveniles? where do they winter? when do they return back to breed ? how many die ? where ?  when?  and why?
    We will be working on this next year!

    In the meantime you can follow the latest news of the adult birds on migration at UKmontagus on twitter, we will provide daily updates once the birds have left the UK.

    Latest map showing Roger has started his migration and is already over the Pyrenees and now on the Coto Donana Reserve ready to cross from Gibraltar

    Finally, a massive thank you! to the volunteers, staff, farmers, Sound Approach and Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation - without you this would not be impossible.

  • The RSPB and I: my career in nature conservation in Kazakhstan

    Blog by Ruslan Urazaliyev, Scientific fellow, Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK)

    10 years ago, for the first time, I saw the RSPB logo - a square with a memorable shape of an Avocet. At that time, I had finished the first year of the university and I could not imagine that this "acquaintance" would become a start for a series of events, which later became significant in my life.

    Since my earliest childhood, I have been interested in wildlife, and in an elementary school, I decided to connect my life with biology. And people from the RSPB played a significant role in the formation of my career. With their help and their full support I went from being the field assistant to the National Coordinator of the Sociable Lapwing project.

    I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the people from the RSPB, whose advice and knowledge help me build my career in nature conservation of Kazakhstan.

    Paul Donald is the person from whom my real acquaintance with the RSPB began. At the end of April 2008, I was invited to a training organized by Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) for biology students on methods of bird census. Paul was a trainer at this event and explained serious scientific things in very interesting and easily accessible way. It was then that I realized that ornithology was what I wanted to do in the future.

    At that time ACBK was promoting birdwatching among students of five Kazakhstani universities and this program was supported by the RSPB. After this training, I took the initiative and organized an ACBK Birdwatching Club in my university in Astana, and became its first leader. Thank you, Paul, for being the first who opened doors for me to the scientific world of ornithology!

    Photo: Paul Donald giving lecture on bird census (April 2008)

    In June 2008, a month after the training, I was invited to join the international Sociable Lapwing project as a field assistant. There I met with two more people from the RSBB, Johannes Kamp and Rob Sheldon. Johannes and Rob were part of a large team of researchers, where there were also Kazakhstan specialists and students. Together we travelled thousands of kilometres, ringed hundreds of chicks, and drank litres of tea by the fire with pleasant conversations. My career truly began (and still continues!) with the sociable lapwing. Now I am the National Coordinator for the project in Kazakhstan. Thanks Johannes and Rob for helping me to find my bluebird of happiness!

    Photo: Field team of Sociable Lapwing project (June 2008)

    In March 2009, I visited the UK for the first time thanks to the support of the RSPB. I arrived to take part in a Student Conference on Conservation Science in Cambridge (which I have then attended 5 years in a row!). I had always dreamed of visiting this famous university, and finally my dream had come true. At this conference I met more RSPB scientists, including Professor Rhys Green. He gave me valuable advice on how to properly present the results of my scientific work at international conferences and I remember his advice every time when preparing presentations! By the way, he also has something to do with the sociable Lapwing project: with him we tagged 11 birds with satellite transmitters in 2013 and 2015. Thank you, Rhys, for the relevant and valuable advice that helps me to this day!

    Photo, from right to left: Rhys Green, Ruslan Urazaliyev and Alexander Putilin with a tagged sociable lapwing (August 2015).

    I also want to express my gratitude for the knowledge that Martin Davis (project planning and management) and Geoff Welch (management of protected areas) shared with me! Thank you very much!

    Now I work as a scientific fellow in ACBK. For 13 years our organization has been fruitfully cooperating with the RSPB. Together we conduct high-quality work on the conservation of biodiversity of Kazakhstan. Any activity must have a source of energy, and in the work of ACBK and the RSPB it is Stephanie Ward (RSPB Central Asia Partner Development Officer). Thank you, Stephanie, for your enthusiasm and positive attitude with which you charge us!

    You can learn more about the results of the joint work of the ACBK and the RSPB by visiting the UK Pavilion at EXPO 2017 in Astana from August 16 to 18, 2017.

    Photo: ACBK representatives and Stephanie Ward at Astana EXPO-2017 (June 2017)

  • Project Puffin: what have we found out so far?

    Guest blog by Georgia Longmoor, Project Puffin Intern, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

    After four very busy months, we are finally coming to the end of our Project Puffin internships! We have been working hard to figure out why puffin numbers are declining and why they’re now as vulnerable to extinction as giant pandas, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). 

    If you’ve been following our blogs throughout the project, you’ll have read about the different approaches we’ve been using –a puffin census in Shetland, GPS tracking and puffarazzi, our citizen science campaign. We have achieved so much, and I want to give you a quick update about our results so far and how we hope they’re going to help puffins in my final Project Puffin blog.

    Counting puffins in Shetland

    We counted puffins in 31 different colonies in Shetland, to increase our understanding of puffin numbers since the last national seabird census was carried out in 2000. 18 days, 53 transects, and at least 64.5 km of remote Shetland coast later, we now have a better idea of the puffin population in several key colonies. We counted how many birds were on land, in the sky flying past us, in puffin ‘wheels’ where they fly around in loops, and swimming on the sea.

    Right now we are analysing our census data, writing reports and getting advice, and we hope that our results could be the first step towards making a change for puffins.

    Photo: RSPB Intern Georgia during a puffin census in Shetland, by Oliver Prince

    Where are puffins going for their fish?

    Our tracking team travelled to Mary Island in the Shiants, and Hermaness in Shetland to catch, tag, monitor and GPS track puffins - using puffin-friendly methods of course. We always have puffins' safety and wellbeing in mind during our research. During the internship one of our interns, Chris Cachia-Zammit, has even been testing out a new method of GPS tagging, with an even lighter, smaller tag than those we use already. 

    We wanted to find out where puffins were going to find fish for their pufflings, which included monitoring their behaviour to check their behaviour was as natural as puffins which didn’t have tags. Our results so far show that a big difference between the puffins in Shetland and the puffins in the Shiants, with the puffins in Shetland appeared to be facing more problems than the Shiants puffins. They had to travel much further to find their food, and the food they did find was not as good – their fish loads were smaller, and more of the fish were larval (very young).

    Photo: Examples of our tracking maps (6 birds from each colony). Each line represents an individual puffin’s journey. You can observe longer, farther away journeys in Shetland than the Shiants

    There was also a difference in the puffin’s behaviour - in Shetland they visited their burrows less and when they were observed there, they were displayed less social behaviour. It’s important to understand the feeding behaviour of these puffins, as it could help us to figure exactly why they are declining. If there is a problem with the local food source matching a decline in puffin numbers, the reason could be a lack of nutritious fish close by.

    We hope to have the complete results from our GPS tracking soon. There will soon be a tracking map published on our website, put together by Tessa Coledale, RSPB Scotland’s senior data manager, where you can follow the tagged puffins on their travels in Shetland and the Shiants!

    Photo: A tagged puffin being released in Shetland, by Oliver Prince

    Your Puffarazzi snaps

    We’ve been overwhelmed with the response to our call for Puffarazzi citizen scientists! People from all over the UK from the Channel islands to Shetland and Lunga to the Isle of May have been sending us really high quality photos of puffins with fish in their bills, to help us find out more about puffin diet.

    To date, we have been sent 1314 images from over 400 volunteers, and the photos have been submitted from 36 different areas in the UK.  We have been using a fish ID guide created by one of our interns, Sian Haddon, to figure out what type of fish puffins are taking to their chicks, how big the fish are, and how many fish the puffin is carrying.

    We are finishing off our analysis in this final week of the internship, and we’re excited to be able to share what we’ve found soon. For now, the most unusual (and largest!) species we have seen in a puffin’s beak is a squid, however it seems that our UK puffin’s favourite fish is the sandeel!

    Photo: An example of the fish one of our tagged puffins in Shetland was carrying, by Georgia Longmoor

    Next steps for Project Puffin

    At the moment we are gathering the data from our GPS tracking work, figuring out how puffin numbers have changed in Shetland since the last puffin census in these colonies in 2000 and finishing off our analysis of the puffarazzi images. We hope to publish our results soon on the Project Puffin website. We’re sure that our efforts as interns, the efforts of the whole team and the efforts of the more than 400 citizen scientists will make a real difference to puffin conservation in the UK!

    Photo: A puffarazzi photo by one of our interns, Oliver Prince

    Project Puffin is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland. I’m grateful for the amazing team I have been a part of during the project – all of the puffineers, Ellie Owen, Robert Hughes and the RSPB media, communications, fundraising, technology and policy teams!

    Thank you for following our progress, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our work as much as we’ve enjoyed doing it.

    If you want to find out more about our results and get updates about the teams progress, go to our website, and if you’re on twitter follow the hashtag #ProjectPuffinUK