Breeding Birds Survey Project

Breeding Birds Survey

Detailed counts of moorland birds in the Peak District National Park take place every 14 years

We undertook bird surveys in 2004 and 2018

The area surveyed was about 500 km2, equivalent to 70,000 football pitches

Long term trends in bird populations


Project start date: January 2017
Project end date: October 2019

We co-ordinated the 2004 and 2018 surveys of breeding birds, on behalf of partners, to discover how a range of moorland birds are faring over time and whether interventions to benefit them are working. The latest findings were reported in October 2019.

The Peak District Moors Special Protection Area (SPA) is designated for several species of moorland birds. It is a statutory requirement that the SPA is surveyed regularly to monitor numbers of birds including golden plover, curlew, merlin, twite, dunlin, short-eared owl, red grouse, skylark and meadow pipit. The survey is an excellent opportunity to identify sites where birds breed successfully and the conditions they need.

First taking place in 1990 and again in 2004, the analysis of data from 2018 helpa us to understand how factors including land use, management practices and habitat types and condition, can influence bird populations. Comparing the results to the two previous studies also provides an insight into long-term trends. The results will enable us to inform the land-managing community about how they can help.

The latest survey took place during the bird-breeding season from April to June 2018. Specialist surveyors visited each moorland site twice – covering a whopping 500 square kilometres of moorland – to record the presence and behaviour of the birds. To keep disturbance of nesting birds to a minimum, only one person surveyed an area at a time.

The British Trust for Ornithology is analysing the survey data and are publishing its report in October 2019.

  • Peak District bird populations are of international importance, especially golden plover, curlew, merlin, twite, dunlin and short-eared owl,
  • Surveyors walked in a zig-zag across each 500x500m survey square, to record the presence and behaviour of birds
  • The 2018 survey was supported by funding from Natural England, the Moorland Association, National Trust, RSPB, Severn Trent, United Utilities and Yorkshire Water

Latest news on the Breeding Bird Survey:

We have become aware of some discrepancies in the processing of the breeding bird survey data submitted for analysis. As such, we have temporarily removed the published bird survey information from the website while this issue is assessed and resolved. To ensure accuracy in reporting, we would ask that any forthcoming articles or ongoing research using this data be put on hold until further notice. We apologise for any inconvenience caused, however accuracy in data and reporting is our utmost concern.

March update: We are still working to resolve the issues with the data and our aim is to re-release the data and reports when this has been done. We do not have a timescale for this yet but updates will be posted here.

April update: Discussions are progressing well. We are pleased that we have been able to keep this at the top of everyone’s agenda during these difficult times.

May/ June update: Over the last few months through a series of collaborative discussions with the consultants, Moors for the Future Partnership has identified two areas that require attention to bring the method in line with the previous surveys in 1990 and 2004, and so enable robust scientific comparisons of the data to be made.

1.      The final stage of the distance thresholds of the Brown & Shepherd methodology was not applied to the data. In this step, pairs of birds are considered to be separate from one another only if at least 1000 m apart on the different visit maps (500 m for Dunlin). The application of this stage may result in some records being removed, and as such fewer birds being reported.

2. Further documented information is required to explain the data processing that occurred between the field maps and digitised dataset. This includes collating all the available information onto the field maps and updating the survey report to make the full process transparent.

Once these areas are addressed we will be issuing a final, updated report and will also be looking at updating the analysis. We will update the website once we have more information on timescales.

The wandering wader watcher

Found out more about how the breeding bird surveys were developed and who is carrying them out

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