Survey statistics make early mornings worthwhile

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I have mentioned previously about my involvement with the annual Breeding Bird Survey, which entails getting up at the crack of dawn on two occasions during the spring and visiting a predetermined 1km square to note all the birds encountered, either by sight or sound.

Sometimes it can seem a bit of a pain, until the results of the national survey pop through the letterbox and you really get the point of it all.

I have just received this glossy publication for 2014, courtesy of the British Trust for Ornithology, and it makes interesting reading.

Some of the numbers are a bit complicated for me to crunch, but here are some of the more digestible ones:

z 2,687 volunteers took part, covering 3,639 squares, logging 223 species.

z In Scotland, 474 squares were covered.

z The most commonly recorded bird for the past 17 years has been the woodpigeon.

z The rest of the top 10 are: 2, blackbird, 3, rook, 4, carrion crow, 5, jackdaw, 6, wren, 7, chaffinch, 8, house sparrow, 9, starling, 10, blue tit.

The survey really comes into its own when it comes to showing population trends and it confirms what I have been noticing in recent years, particularly that chiffchaffs, great spotted woodpeckers and blackcaps have all increased by over 400 per cent since 1995.

On the other hand, two of the biggest losers have been kestrel and swift, both down 60 per cent over the same period.

Interestingly, short-term population changes can also be indicative of other factors such as the weather.

Two of our smallest species – wren and long-tailed tit, increased significantly since the previous year, thanks to the mild winter.

Siskins have declined across Europe since 1995, but Scotland has bucked that trend by showing a remarkable 51 per cent increase.

The reasons are unclear but it is thought that it is probably down to us putting out garden feeders, which they have learned to exploit, and the increase in afforestation in Scotland.

There is a section on the survey forms for the recorder to note any mammal sightings as well.

For me, the most amazing statistic to come out of that is that foxes have declined by 29 per cent since 1995 and are currently at their lowest level since the survey began. What does that tell us about the effectiveness of fox hunting?

If you would like to help out in next year’s survey, there are plenty of vacant squares in the Borders and there will be a suitable one near you. Drop an e-mail to me at corbie@homecall.co.uk and I will put you in touch with the Borders regional organiser.