BTO Surveys in Suffolk: Opportunities to get involved

Although there are probably more birders per square metre in Suffolk than most other counties in the UK, it’s not always easy for the BTO to get the coverage in terms of surveys that the area so richly deserves.

There’s something very satisfying about survey work; perhaps it’s the ‘concentrated birding’ aspect, or the feeling of giving something back in the way of citizen science and contributing to the overall pot of knowledge. There are many who think they should get involved, but perhaps baulk at the perceived commitment, or think they couldn’t for some other reason.

I jumped in a few years back on a BTO Nightingale Survey, and got the bug for it, taking on a Breeding Bird Survey square the following year. Sure, you have to get a bit organised, but I’ve loved doing it to the extent of taking on a second one this year.

So, for those who think they might like to get involved, here are some of the BTO’s current surveys you can take part in without leaving the county. If you’re tempted, get in touch with the regional representative, Mick Wright at

BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Birds Survey (BBS):

This involves two survey visits (usually in mid-to-late April and again in May/June) to a 1km square, with two (roughly parallel) transects being walked. All birds present are recorded, whether by sight, song or call.

Although Suffolk has around 50 squares covered, this only represents about 1% of the county area, so there is more work to do.

The survey produces very robust results, the outcome having a significant influence on Government policy.

There’s still time to take a square for 2019 – just get in touch with Mick at the email above for a list of the currently available squares.

JNCC Seabirds Count: Urban Nesting Gulls

As part of the Seabirds Count census, volunteers across the UK will be participating in surveys during the Spring/Summer of 2019 and 2020, from late March to mid June. The count of urban-nesting gulls (April 23rd to May 7th) will provide valuable information on how the UK population of Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls are faring. This is particularly so in the context of the decline by over 30% in Herring Gull numbers at natural cliff, rocky coast and moorland sites. Is this in any way a result of movement into urban areas, or part of a more general decline?

Again, this count will focus on an allocated 1km square, and be carried out from the ground. Even if the square contains no gulls, the result is important.

One visit is all that will be required, recording apparently-occupied nests, apparently-occupied territory and individual adults, with Herring and Lesser Black-backed reported separately.

Mick really needs help on this one, with 80 random 1km squares to cover!

Farm Woodland Survey

Since 1988 over 22,000 farm woods have been planted in England; usually small and thus quick and easy to survey, checking how these new environments are being colonised.

It involves 4 morning visits between March 15th (it’s now April, so get a move on!) and July 15th, recording all individual birds (and some basic habitat recording). A 1km square may involve a few sites, but several could be covered in a couple of hours.

If checking this one out on the BTO site, it’s found under ‘English-farm-woodland-bird-survey’ in the volunteer surveys pages.


For those who haven’t used this before or have let usage fall away (as I did): the data and site entry has been revised, making it much more straightforward and quick. You can record either a complete list (species plus count) or just a species list, so there’s really no excuse not to do it! This is the basic entry point for anyone considering a bit of ‘citizen science’ and making your birding count!

Please also check out the information on the Rook Survey, which is a separate entry on the News page of this website.

For further information on any of the above, make Mick Wright your first call at the email at the head of this article.