If a conservation initiative like Birds On The Edge aims to restore bird populations and stop them from further declines, it is important that we keep our eyes on the target. Even when you are busy restoring habitats, planting winter bird crops, clearing bracken and introducing grazing flocks, unless you monitor how the birds are actually doing, you can’t just assume that things will work out, just because they work well elsewhere.
In short, doing the conservation work itself is only half of the job. Any project needs to put in place systems to measure its progress, not only to find out whether techniques actually work but also when to stop, evaluate and adjust. Real-time feedback allows us to adapt the techniques that we use, saving a great amount of work, time and money.
Thankfully some local initiatives have been monitoring birds in Jersey for quite a while. The Ornithology Section of the Société Jersiaise collects bird records all year round and publishes an annual bird report summarizing each species’ year. During spring, our local representative of the BTO co-ordinates a team of volunteers that survey randomly selected squares twice in a 6-week period and record all breeding birds and their activity. The BTO then publishes a nationwide analysis and report on general trends based on everybody’s input. On top of that, every year the BTO organizes a nationwide census for a different species, in which Jersey’s ornithologists also participate. Last year it was the peregrine falcon, this year it’s the turn of the house martin.
The Farmland Monitoring Scheme set up in 2005 and co-ordinated by Dr Glyn Young at Durrell, collects data from 22 transects walked by volunteers every fortnight throughout the year. So far it has collected date from over 3,200 individual site counts as it celebrates the first 10 years of work (watch out on the website for a full report). Other annual surveys organized locally include the Jersey Garden Bird Watch, organised by Action for Wildlife and Birds On The Edge, and various wader, geese and raptor counts which help create a picture of long-term trends of the most well-known species.
In 2013, Birds On The Edge started its own ‘breeding birds survey’, partly to complement these schemes, and partly to fill a gap which was relevant to the project, that is to focus survey efforts on Jersey’s most threatened coastal and farmland birds. This survey pays special attention to endangered species found in the areas of work (north-west and western coasts to start with), such as the stonechat, skylark, lapwing and turtle dove, plus Island-wide species whose status is uncertain such as the kestrel and the starling. The survey also includes other species whose populations seem stable, such as the raven or the peregrine falcon, yet are considered highly vulnerable due to only a small number of breeding pairs.
We are pleased to publish now the report of the 2014 survey (download a copy here). Over the two years of the survey to date, we have found high enough numbers of certain species such as the meadow pipit, linnet, Dartford warbler and common whitethroat, for example, to make it difficult to monitor each breeding pair. This suggests that any changes in the population trends will be, and already are, reliably picked up by long-term monitoring schemes such as the Farmland Monitoring Scheme.
The majority of resources were placed instead in monitoring the breeding success of our smaller bird populations. Over the course of two years we have seen an increase in the number of stonechat pairs, going from two to six and we have seen the cirl buntings, which returned in 2011, increase to two pairs. The breeding success of one of our most threatened birds, however, the turtle dove, proved difficult to confirm in 2014, although a single pair was seen nest-building. Skylarks seemed also to follow the negative trend of the last few years while lapwings remain at very low numbers, and are not able to reverse their decline of the last few years. In contrast, other small populations, such as that of the raven and the peregrine, do seem more stable at 3-5 breeding pairs.
The 2014 report also recommends a few new species to be included in this year’s (2015) survey, like the sedge warbler and the sand martin, and reminds us to keep a close eye on species that are suffering declines in the UK, such as the kestrel and the common starling, as their present trend in Jersey is anything but clear.
Results from one year to the next have to be taken with much caution and interpreted in the wider context of long-term trends and habitat changes. Having said that, it is important to continue monitoring the small populations that we have in Jersey as they are very vulnerable to rapid extinction events, and any acute dip in the population or any new threat (a disease, a new predator, changes in habitat) will be detected early and might allow us to take action before its too late.
This report was made with the help of many local birdwatchers, local enthusiasts, work colleagues, and the Ornithology Section of the Société Jersiaise. Please download a copy of the 2014 report here