Living Uplands

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Two thirds of upland birds on endangered list.

23rd Jul 2020

Living Uplands has completed its fourth year of bird counts with Durham Wildlife Trust, an annual exercise enabling us to build a valuable picture of birdlife on a particular upland moor.

Before we look at this year's count we need to look at the conditions on the moor for the past twelve months. Although our upland moors are managed, the one thing impossible to manage is the weather. Management is only possible to help the wild birds to have the best chance to breed, particularly ground-nesting birds. Nature has its own rules.

The weather pattern suggests that while the temperature have remained within a similar range year on year, there have been more rainy days and lots more rain over the past two years, and this past year delivered harder sharper winds on the moor. This will have presented harsh conditions for the birds wintering on the fell, more so than for those arriving in the Spring.

The milder spring, however, means that that breeding conditions were good at the time most birds settled down to nest.

What does the bird count indicate in 2020?

Good news that the populations of lapwing and curlew seem to be continuing to thrive on this area of Upland.

The count method means that there is a short time at each of four locations, providing a simple snapshot. The range and number of birds each year will vary.

In this fourth year we are able to start to take a longer view on what the data is telling us. What is striking across this year and the longer four years is that the range of birds counted includes two-thirds that are on either the red or amber BTO endangered list.

In 2020 of the 18 different bird species counted, five are Red listed and seven are amber listed. These include in the red category: Black Grouse, Curlew, Lapwing, Skylark and Grey Partridge. On the amber list are: the Red Grouse, Black Headed Gull, Meadow Pipit, Kestrel, Snipe, Mallard, and Short Eared Owl.

Looking across the four years where we have counted a total of 28 bird species, seven are Red listed and 11 are Amber listed. We find on the red list: the Black Grouse, Curlew, Herring Gull, Lapwing, Skylark, Woodcock, and Grey Partridge. On the Amber list are: the Red Grouse, Black Headed Gull, Meadow Pipit, Oystercatcher, Stock Dove, Graylag Goose, Kestrel, Snipe, Mallard, and Short Eared Owl.

A total of eighteen species of bird on this relatively modest corner of a moor. The landowner is also aware of other species on the endangered list, such as the Ringed Plover and Ring Ouzel (both Red list).

There are of course many natural challenges. A wet and windy winter followed rapidly by a warm spring will have reduced the crane fly larvae as a food source for some, there appears to have been a spread of Heather Beetle affecting habitat, and the appearance of a few more Large Black-Backed gulls will have increased predation of chicks. Overall, weather conditions may have a greater impact on the resident birdlife rather than those that are migratory. Our bird count helps to keep track of what is happening over time, across species, year on year.

No matter the annual challenges, the year to year bird count provides ample evidence to celebrate an amazing abundance of bird life and our part in assuring sustainability of the natural, and endangered, heritage of our precious Uplands.