Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

Julian Hughes, Head of Species at RSPB Cymru, is one of the editors of Birds of Wales/Adar Cymru, a new book that documents the stories of all the birds ever seen in Wales.

It is almost 30 years since the publication of the only book on the birds of Wales. That is about to change, with the publication of a new book that charts the changing fortunes of birds in Wales, from the prehistoric to the present day.

This new book pools knowledge of all 451 wild bird species recorded in Wales and more than 100 non-native species recorded ‘in the wild’. The accounts for each bird species draw on the latest research and expertise from those who have studied the birds in Wales, including several current and retired RSPB Cymru staff and volunteers.

It traces the earliest evidence, such as barnacle geese that bred in Pembrokeshire before the last Ice Age and the footprints of common crane preserved in Severn Estuary mud around 7,000 years ago. Wales is significant for its populations of chough, hawfinch and pied flycatcher, and our Manx shearwaters are of global importance. The bird observatories on Skokholm and Bardsey have played an important role in the study of migration, and many RSPB members help to track the fortunes of our birds through citizen science and counting birds on our nature reserves.

The opening chapters describe, for the first time, the history of conservation in Wales, including the early activities of the RSPB: early prosecutions for using illegal pole-traps in 1909 and the first watchers who protected the seabirds on Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey, from 1911. From the 1920s, the RSPB funded the lease of Skokholm, Pembrokeshire, as a nature reserve and protected the last few red kites in mid Wales, and in the 1930s successfully prosecuted the owner of a tanker that spilled oil off Pembrokeshire.

Importance of RSPB reserves

RSPB nature reserves feature strongly, from the first land purchase, of Grassholm Island, Pembrokeshire, where the gannetry has grown from 7,000 birds in 1948 to 36,000 in 2015, to the creation of a wetland on the Conwy estuary in the 1990s. It documents some of the battles to protect important places for nature, which led to the protection of the internationally important Dee Estuary and the establishment of reedbeds and wet grassland at Newport Wetlands on the Gwent Levels.

The success of the RSPB’s habitat restoration projects is demonstrated by the wonderful wetland birds now found at Cors Ddyga, Anglesey, and the landscape-scale ambition at Lake Vyrnwy, Powys. RSPB wardens are responsible for looking after more than half of the Welsh populations of several birds, including bittern, redshank, marsh harrier and Arctic tern. Some of the unexpected rarities to have been found on RSPB nature reserves include the only Welsh records of grey-tailed tattler at Ynys-hir in 1981, stilt sandpiper at Conwy in 1996 and black lark at South Stack Cliffs in 2003.

Delving into the details

The book draws on RSPB expertise to assess the impact of land-use and climate change on birds: its ground-breaking scientific research on birds such as chough and lapwing, major initiatives to benefit black grouse and birds of the Western Atlantic oakwoods, and campaigns to persuade governments to make Wales better for nature. It also looks at changes yet to come during the 21st century, some projected by an unstable climate and others dependent on decisions made by politicians about farming, forestry and renewable energy.

The Birds of Wales/Adar Cymru has been two years in the writing and was my spare-time lockdown project during 2020 – I never was going to be much good at baking banana bread. It also showcases more than 200 stunning images from some of Wales’ leading photographers. The only previous comprehensive book on birds for Wales was published in 1994 and I refer to it weekly. We hope that this new volume will be equally valued by the current and next generation of people who love the birds of Wales.

The Birds of Wales/Adar Cymru is published, in English, by Liverpool University Press and the Welsh Ornithological Society on 1 July 2021, price £45. 608 pages. Hardback.
It can be ordered at the pre-publication price of £25, plus p&p, until 30 June. Visit Liverpool University Press and use the code WALES50, or phone 07766 472078.