Wintering and Migratory Birds

Posted by on 27/07/2010

Wintering and Migratory Birds
Many people are aware of the constraints that breeding birds can place on development projects, but fewer people seem aware of the requirement to assess wintering and migratory bird populations. As we head towards Autumn and Winter, the birds that were recorded on site during the breeding season may be replaced by a completely new suite of species.  Some of these birds will be joining us for the winter from their breeding grounds in the far north, whilst others like red knot and curlew sandpiper will simply be stopping over on their way south.  Fields that held breeding yellowhammer and skylark in the summer may now be important habitats for species such as Northern lapwing and common snipe.

The UK has a number of nationally (e.g. Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and internationally (e.g. Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Ramsar sites) important sites for birds, which are protected under European and/or National legislation and planning policy.  Whilst not legally protected, other wintering habitats or migration stopover points can be just as important to bird populations as breeding sites – and equally problematic for the developer.  A range of statutory consultees, conservation charities or local wildlife enthusiasts may object to a planning application if they feel that wintering birds have not been considered at a pre-planning stage.  Our extended Phase 1 habitat survey, coupled with an extensive desk study, can inform you at an early stage if wintering birds are likely to be an issue on your site.  Considering wintering/migrating birds at an early stage in your planning process can avoid costly project delays at a later date.

Our ornithology team have extensive experience of undertaking surveys and assessments for a range of wintering and migratory bird species in support of a range of projects. These are summarised below:

Winter Farmland Surveys
Based on the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Wintering Farmland Bird Survey methodology, these surveys generally involve three visits to wintering farmland habitat between October and March, walking transects across the site and accurately recording the species and number of birds encountered.

Wetland Bird Counts
Based on the BTO’s Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) methodology, these surveys can include core counts of wetland birds (coastal or inland) or low tide counts to map the distribution of feeding birds and identify key feeding areas.  This survey method requires two surveys each month between September and March.

Flight Activity Surveys
We are experienced in undertaking flight activity surveys to assess the potential collision risk that your development may pose to birds.  This may apply to birds migrating during the Autumn (August/September) and Spring (March/April) migration periods, birds moving between roosting and feeding sites on a daily basis (ie. swans and geese) or birds foraging across a site.

Bespoke and Species Specific Surveys
Sometimes a bespoke survey methodology is required to fully assess wintering bird populations.  This may be due to the presence of a rare species, proximity to a statutorily designated site or simply due to the unique nature of your project.  Our ecologists are experienced in working alongside government agencies, local planning authorities and ornithological experts to design and agree on survey methodologies that provides you with high returns of data for minimal financial outlay.   As an example, Scottish Natural Heritage guidance on onshore wind suggests 36 hours per vantage point for passage/winter bird surveys as a minimum; however, it is our experience that it is possible to agree a shorter surveys period through consultation (depending on local sensitivities).

Appropriate Assessment and Habitat Regulations Assessments
Projects or plans within or in close proximity to SPAs or Ramsar sites may require a detailed assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. Our team of ecological consultants are experienced at liaising with statutory and non-statutory consultees and competent authorities to undertake screening reports to determine the need for and, where needed, the scope of baseline surveys to enable detailed assessments.