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 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 will help 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 will also provide an insight into long-term trends. The results will enable us to inform the land-managing community about how they can help.

The 2018 survey was supported by funding from Natural England, the Moorland Association, National Trust, RSPB, Severn Trent, United Utilities and Yorkshire Water

Please read before downloading the report:

Breeding Bird Survey Statement to Accompany Report (downloadable link below)

  • Amendments made to the data
  • Strengths and limitations of the methodology
  • BTO’s analysis of the data


After the publication of the Peak District Moorland Breeding Bird Survey report in November 2019, we became aware that the data had not been processed in an identical way to the previous surveys of 1990 and 2004. Through a series of collaborative discussions with the consultants and partners, two areas which required attention were identified. Updating these would bring the method in line with previous surveys, which would allow robust scientific comparisons of data from the different surveys to be made. The two areas were:

  1. The final stage of the application of distance thresholds using the Brown & Shepherd methodology was applied to the data. This helps to reduce potential double counting of the same birds when they are seen in similar areas on the two visits. The application of this stage resulted in some records being removed, and as such fewer birds being reported.
  2. Further documented information was provided to explain the data processing that occurred between the field maps and digitised dataset, to make the whole process fully transparent.

This survey provides information on the distribution and abundance of different species across the Peak District Moors. The Brown and Shepherd methodology is ideal for surveying large areas in a single survey season of three months. Due to the requirement of covering a large area in a short period of time, it provides an estimate of the numbers of birds present rather than a complete census. As such, there is an inherent uncertainty associated with large-scale surveys such as this.
BTO are performing an analysis to quantify the direction and magnitude of population trends between the surveys. As there were slightly different areas surveyed in 1990 and 2004 the overall results of the three surveys cannot be compared directly. BTO’s analysis accounts for the different areas covered by each survey and compares changes across the 1990, 2004, and 2018 data with results from analysis of annual BTO/ JNCC/ RSPB Breeding Bird Survey data from the Peak District and South Pennines. This provides an independent ‘sense check’ of the Peak District Moorland breeding bird survey data to see if species’ trends match between the two methods. Results from this analysis are expected in August 2021.

We would urge readers to wait for this analysis before actively using the data in this report, as this analysis will inform and clarify the findings from this survey.

Peak District Moorland Breeding Bird Survey Report 2018, Revised 2021

Breeding Bird Survey Statement to Accompany Report, July 2021

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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