It's not just birds that migrate but they would win gold medals at it.  Whales do it, wildebeest do it, even educated painted ladies do it - but birds do it best in my humble opinion.

And in spring, now!, every time you go out into the countryside there may be another summer migrant returning to fill the air with its song.  My list of summer migrants already seen is currently: swallow, sand martin, house martin, common tern, chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, sedge warbler, grasshopper warbler and little ringed plover.  Not bad, but others in Northants have seen wheatear, redstart, cuckoo, reed warbler, whitethroat, osprey, yellow wagtail, common sandpiper, hobby and even a swift.  I'm itching to get out at the weekend and see what's about.  And everything is so fresh and pretty at this time of year.

Now although each of those species is equally welcome back at my local patch of Stanwick Lakes, they have had very different journeys in order to get there.  Take chiffchaff and willow warbler as two examples.  Some chiffchaffs over-winter in the UK - more than used to - but those that do leave us go as far as southern Spain and North Africa to winter whereas willow warblers are trans-Saharan migrants, wintering in tropical and south Africa.  And chiffchaffs are doing fine in the UK whereas willow warblers are declining in numbers.

Many other of our trans-Saharan migrants are declining in numbers but it's not just in the UK - such trends have been noticed in other European countries (eg Denmark) - and are there on a continent-wide scale.  It's tempting to think that there's something going on 'over there' that is affecting 'our' migrants so that their numbers fall 'back here'. 

That may not be the right way to look at it though.  It still may be things happening here that are affecting those species - for example it looks as though willow warbler breeding success has declined recently in the UK.  It's difficult to know without proper studies - and that is why, alongside our friends in the BTO, the RSPB is investigating these declines - 'here' and 'there'.

I can remember (I've said that a fair bit recently) when we were told that it was futile managing land for corncrakes here because all the problems were in Africa.  It's a good job that we didn't take too much notice of this (but did keep it in mind as a possibility) otherwise the recovery of the corncrake would not have happened. 

Just as any single migrant species might be having problems on its breeding range, wintering range, on its migration route or all or some of these, then that is just as true of all migrant species.  I wouldn't be surprised if some of the problems are found to be 'here' and some 'there'.  Fixing the problems 'there' might be quite challenging.

Nature conservation needs evidence on which to base its actions if they are to be successful. Sometimes you can strike lucky by guessing but there are plenty of examples of strongly-held views that were shown by research to be erroneous.  And I guess that will apply to some of our currently strongly-held views too.

The work of the RSPB's science team has under-pinned many of the RSPB's success over the years - bitterns, corncrakes, stone curlews, cirl buntings, Hope Farm to name but a few.  You don't save species just by studying them - you need to do something practical too - but it's noticeable, I think, that the RSPB has a stronger science team and greater science spend, than most other conservation NGOs (in absolute and relative terms).  It can't be an accident that we have a long list of success stories. 


  • Mark I agree with Bob's comment and in the Telegraph today a article stating that after years of campaigning against farmers blaming them for disappearance of popular birds the RSPB now accepts Britain cannot return to old fashioned farming and that we have to do things to help and quoting Hope Farm.Well most farmers not going to go that far but think you have had a considerable impact in changing the relationship between lots of farmers and RSPB,would really like your last input to be to push for a acre or two on lots of farms to get environmental grants for wild bird seed mixtures to be sown.

    What a legacy to leave for the benefit of small birds.

    Personally think these birds under tremendous pressure as modern farming goes down the route of lots of Ryegrass,lots of Maize and lots of Rape which is not likely to change for the better so these small acreages could help redress the balance.  

  • Mark, You are bound to get somebody say 'what science' but can I say if there was one thing I will always praise the RSPB for (and there are many) and that is the science that underpins policies and activities undertaken by the Society.

  • Saw flock of birds flying purposely over Stokenchurch Bucks, mid morning 16 4 2011. Did anyone else see it and identify them? They appear the size of a thrush but they were gone so quickly just a whoosh over my head and they had gone!I wondered if they could have been Wheater or Little ringed plover after searching in books and reading the article above.