Bird Atlas 2007-11: a guest blog from Andy Clements, BTO Director

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Bird Atlas 2007-11: a guest blog from Andy Clements, BTO Director

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On the day of the launch of the new Bird Atlas, I am delighted to host a guest blog from BTO boss, Andy Clements.  The Atlas is a towering achievement and all involved (including the volunteers) deserve credit, thanks and a celebratory glass or two.  I am convinced that the data will be underpinning conservation efforts for years to come... 


The wait is over. Over the next few days, Bird Atlas 2007-2011 will be gracing breakfast tables, desks and bedside cabinets of the 7000 or so people who pre-ordered their copy a few months ago. I have been quoted as saying this is the most important bird book for two decades and, in the commentary I’ve seen so far, no-one has disagreed. This evening, 100 or so people from Government, academia, the NGO conservation sector, and the birding community will join us at The Royal Society to celebrate this achievement. This book is the product of a cast of thousands. The last 14 pages list the contributors of bird-watching observations that make this Atlas what it is.It is a partnership between BTO, BirdWatch Ireland and the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, ensuring we cover the whole biogeographical unit of Britain and Ireland. The book is dedicated to the many local organisers and validators whose voluntary contributions were fundamental in enabling the gathering and checking of 19 million records! Hugely impressive quality from 40,000 skilled volunteers! It is a significant body of scientific work.

Atlases help to set the ornithological conservation agenda for a decade. They present the most complete picture of distribution and abundance with more than 99% coverage of Britain andIreland in  this particular Atlas. And the information makes compelling reading, setting the scene for further interpretation and research, fuelling our ability to inform the conservation debate. This is a story of change. Having produced a series of Atlases since the early 1970s we can now illustrate changes over a 40 year period - a gradual and widespread thinning in the range of Curlew over this time-span is a good example. Chapter 6, on Pattern and Change by Rob Fuller et al begins to interpret some big-picture changes, and it makes fascinating reading. By looking at species groups, such as waders or raptors, and those grouped by habitat preference, we are shown new perspectives on change. My own eye is caught by: the geographical divergence in patterns of abundance change for species including migrants where abundance decreases in the south-east contrast with increases in the north-west; the mapping of the southern herons’ new arrivals; the identification of new groups of conservation concern including breeding waders and upland birds; the unprecedented spread of Buzzard and Raven, and; setting baselines for the colonisation of non-native species.

The changes illustrated by Bird Atlas 2007-11 create a platform for future research and conservation practice over the next ten years. That’s why we make all the Atlas data available toRSPB (and the statutory nature conservation agencies) for conservation purposes. And there is no-one better than David Gibbons, the lead author of the previous BTO Atlas, to determine with RSPB colleagues how best to build on the Atlas to inform future conservation. The BTO is already actively working on Atlas research, and there is much still to do. In the New Year we will be leading an appeal for Atlas research funds to ensure that the most is made of this monumental workundertaken by volunteers. In the meantime I would urge you to the follow this week’s words of Martin’s predecessor at RSPB, Dr Mark Avery  – “Buy it, read it!”

  • Have had mine for nearly a week now and it is stunning! It occurred to me; how many of the 40,000 volunteer observers are RSPB members? Quite a high percentage I would guess, a truly collaborative endeavour.

  • Quite simply, next to my field guide, this is THE bird book I'd  have to have. It is a huge, stunning achievement - for Andy, Dawn Balmer and everyone at BTO - for all the contributors - and in fact everyone across the ornithological community. The information in this book is quite staggering - a huge leap forward, thanks to IT & increasingly sophisticated survey techniques (a challenge to which the army of 'citizen scientists has risen magnificently). Its going to take months to absorb even the headlines ! Christmas is coming - and this has to be THE present for anyone serious about the future of our British Birds ! Dead cheap at just £70 !

  • I hope that you've sent that nice Mr Cameron a complimentary copy (if he hasn't already ordered one!) with a few relevant paragraphs highlighted.

    Great stuff and I am greatly looking forward to mine arriving!