Lesser Black-backed Gull Ringing Burhou
Creating Britain’s Newest and most Southerly Accredited Bird Observatory. Alderney is becoming established as one of the most exciting islands in Britain for seeing and monitoring birds in migration and for nesting seabirds.
What is a Bird Observatory?
It's a place which conducts long-term monitoring of bird populations and migration. Individual observatories are located at prime migration points around the British Isles and conduct within a defined recording area. The first observatory was established on the Welsh Island of Skokholm (1933) and since then the British network has become renowned worldwide for its network of observatories, the quality of their observations and the wildlife viewing opportunities they present.
An integral part of an observatory’s work is bird ringing, the capturing of birds by a licensed ‘ringer’, who acts as the observatory’s Warden, thus enabling the study of population dynamics across an international species (British Trust for Ornithology for information on ringing http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing). Observatories encourage volunteers to participate in scientific studies of birds and the environment, including ringing and more casual observations whilst out enjoying the areas they reside within. The results of these studies are made freely available to researchers and to the public who are welcome to then visit the observatories.
What benefits would a Bird Observatory bring to Alderney?
This is a project, born out of the ‘Living Islands’ initiative, which has already attracted regional media interest and expects to focus the national media on the island. It will also bring visiting scientists and it is believed a significant number of birdwatching enthusiasts form the UK and Continental Europe, as its reputation develops. It will be the only official Bird Observatory in the Channel Islands and it is hoped a focus for scientific effort studying the role of the Islands in European bird migration as well as focusing on its seabird colonies.
The Trust also envisions the facility will bring an economic boost to the fragile Alderney economy by sustainably exploiting a resource which to a large degree belongs to the island, and its residents, attracting visitors who would like to participate in the work of the Observatory or who simply want to visit an island which has this resource and reputation. Such visitors will stay in the island’s existing accommodation (mostly in the shoulder months when migration occurs) and over time there may also be the potential to establish a new ‘hostel’ class of accommodation. This would provide cheaper dormitory or shared room style accommodation for visiting groups, including universities and clubs.
The potential for reporting sightings of rare species of birds will be vastly increased through the coordination of the ABO’s full time Warden, John Horton, who is charged with developing the project over the coming 2 years. Bird ringing too will be able to offer new insights and stories which have previously been hidden. For example a Water Rail caught and killed by a cat in November 2015 was ringed in the Czech Republic earlier that same year.
What is necessary to get British ‘Bird Observatory Council’ accreditation (www.birdobscouncil.org.uk)? And why do we need it?
As Alderney lies outside of the legislative frameworks of both the EU and UK the island has to find its own path towards establishing wildlife designations that not only recognise and protect the island’s unique natural heritage, but also seek to establish a high level of scientific understanding of the local ecology and how it supports the ecosystem services of the island. In the case of Alderney’s Internationally Important Marine Wetland (Ramsar) Site the research, and subsequent environmental management undertaken here on Alderney, has helped the island become recognised as a leading centre of scientific excellence within the Channel Islands and even the wider English Channel.
Whilst it is not essential for the Alderney Bird Observatory to have national accreditation, it does ensure that Alderney is recognised as operating at the ‘highest standards’, and as accredited observatories experience a much higher level of media exposure in programmes such as BBC Countryfile and Coast it also offers potential economic benefits. In order to achieve accreditation the Alderney Bird Observatory must:
• Define a recording area. The ABO intends to designate Alderney in its entirety as the ‘recoding area’ with specific areas identified for more intensive effort. The Warden will be charged with ensuring the island is survey daily and will be supported by Trust staff but also it is hoped by visitors coming to visit the ABO, or simply on the island for a holiday.
• Maintain reasonable coverage (defined as records for a minimum of 75% of days) of the study area during the migration seasons (March – June and August - November). Records for other times, particularly the breeding season, should be maintained where possible.
• Coordinate and maintain a daily census and migration log.
• Operate a programme of bird ringing within the recording area. Data will be submitted to the British Trust for Ornithology via the Channel Islands Ringing Scheme.
• Provide training for visiting ringers and trainee ringers
• Provide or arrange overnight accommodation with board and/or cooking facilities at an appropriate charge.
The Observatory is seen very much as a Channel Islands initiative. It is expected that environmental organisations and individuals from Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, as well as the host island of Alderney, will all participate in developing the Observatory. The Obsrvatory will be looking to establish formal ringer training courses and other accredited professional training as part of its educational work as well as supporting school groups.
The ultimate aims of the Observatory is to improve the biological records from Alderney, and to assist the next generation in developing and enjoying an awareness and understanding of our unique Channel Islands’ natural heritage.
In the longer term it is intended that the Observatory will be self-supporting, largely by taking a small percentage of the income from accommodation of visitors coming to experience the Observatory in some way. The Island’s existing hotels and guest houses will provide an ideal source of accommodation and much more variety than is available in any other Accredited Island Observatory, offering Alderney a unique selling point. In the near future a hostel might be needed as well. Such hostels exist to support almost all other Observatories and good examples, such as Fair Isle (http://www.fairislebirdobs.co.uk/), have very significant numbers of visitors for large parts of the year, especially focused around March-June and September-November migrations, with bookings made several years in advance.
John Horton (ABO Warden) is very well qualified and has volunteered his services for a two year trial to establish the economic arguments for the project. In return the Trust needs to secure accommodation, materials and a vehicle (ideally a second hand truck). There will be significant opportunities for private and corporate sponsorship as this project has national and local appeal, and the Trust is exploring the specific naming and advertising opportunities which would be available to sponsors.
The Alderney Bird Observatory project will see Alderney established as an internationally important bird area, meeting the highest standards of scientific rigor.
For further information please contact the Alderney Bird Observatory directly.
To see daily and monthly Aldeney Sightings go to Guernsey Birds.
To help us make the ABO a reality please donate here