Monday, 1 November 2010

Blashford is a Bird Atlas Hotspot

The BTO Atlas project is drawing to a close, this coming winter will be the last of the four that will supply the data for the final atlas and at the end of next July the whole project will have come to and end. This is the third breeding atlas and the second winter atlas and they have covered the whole of Britain and Ireland and give an unparalleled overview of changes in distribution and now also population density. These are huge undertakings involving thousands of observers making millions of records. The arrival of the Internet since the last atlas, twenty years ago, has allowed much easier recording and the opportunity to see the pattern of records unfolding.

Locally the Hampshire Ornithological Society is intending to survey every tetrad (2x2 km square) in the whole county. Nationally the aim is at least eight in every 10km square, so this is more than three times as much work. It will give far and away the most detailed view we have ever had of the birds of the county. By surveying the birds in this way it is possible to get some idea of the habitat hotspots in the county and birds are one of the few groups that can be surveyed in this way, most wildlife groups simply do not have enough people interested in them to make such a survey feasible.

Blashford Lakes straddles two tetrads SU10 N and SU10 P, Ivy Lake southwards is in N and Ibsley Water is in P. The number of species recorded in these two tetrads is testament to the diversity of habitat and intensity of observation. The Ibsley Water tetrad (SU10P) has recorded 121 species in winter and 117 in the breeding season. SU10 N is somewhat behind with 98 species in winter and 81 in the breeding season. These data have to be viewed with a little care, there are a few records that I think are in error, such as Bewick's swan seen in SU10 N, I suspect this should have been in tetrad P, similarly a record of white-fronted goose, there are also a few duplicates around "pied" wagtails and various redpolls. I would urge everyone to take part, but please check that the records are entered for the right location, to make it easier there are maps on the website. To view data, maps etc. for any area you can visit and follow the links through to the atlas.

I admit to being a bit of an atlassing enthusiast, the methodology makes me visit places that I would never otherwise go to and sometimes this can result in surprising finds. Locally I have come across an area with good numbers of yellowhammer breeding, a once abundant species that I hardly ever seen nowadays. What is more the locality is within a mile of my home and I never knew they were there. What this illustrates is that although we all like to visit well known good sites for wildlife and Balshford is certainly one of these, we should not forget that wildlife needs much more than a few "hotspots" to survive. We need healthy habitat across the whole of the country for wildlife to survive and every bit of habitat counts, good though nature reserves can be they will not conserve our wildlife. In fact what we will need is a Living Landscape, the Wildlife Trust's vision of a country fit for both people and wildlife, but see the Trust's website for more on this and seek out "Living Landscape".

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