Wednesday, 4 January 2012

New Year, New Project

The first of many, hopefully!

After what seemed like an eternity trying to sort the necessary permission, at 4 am this morning Paul and I finally got started on a new project colour-ringing Golden Plovers in Shropshire and Mid-Wales, with the first 5 birds colour-marked. Between us, we have now ringed over 150 this winter, an amazing achievement given that the GB & Ireland ringing total for the past 10 years has averaged at less than 100!

Golden Plover is listed in the Section 42 list of “Species of Principle Importance for the Conservation of Biological Diversity in Wales” under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.  A small and declining breeding population of Golden Plover is present in the Elenydd SSSI west of Rhayader and is being gradually enclosed with windfarm development on all sides. In addition, in October each year, returning birds from more northerly populations head for the upland plateaux of the wider Cambrian Mountains. Here they spend the day-time in rough pastures, dispersing onto more improved farmland during the night-time to forage for earthworms. Many of the traditional haunts have been identified as potential wind-farm sites and indeed several already have operating wind-farms in situ. Little is known about the potential effect on Golden Plovers of direct collision with turbine blades or the effect of displacement from preferred roosting and feeding sites through avoidance. All Environmental Impact Assessments, on potential windfarm sites, require consultants to undertake surveys for a range of species, with the Golden Plover high on the list because of its Section 42 listing. The number of Golden Plovers using a site pre-construction should be available for all windfarms. The number of birds using a site post construction should also be available through post-construction monitoring agreements. These figures however will not allow any assessment of whether any measured reduction in numbers is through increased mortality through collision, or caused by site abandonment through avoidance of operational turbines.

If we can colour-ring a significant number of birds within the general area then valid statistical evaluations may be available regarding return rates pre and post construction at wind-farm sites and these could be compared to return rates at control sites. Golden Plovers are relatively approachable in a vehicle and tend to walk around in relatively short vegetation where colour-rings would be relatively readable with a telescope.

Colour-ringing may also yield data on where these birds originate from and where they go to in colder weather when they abandon the upland plateaux. If the small and declining breeding population is involved then any mortality through turbine collisions is of increased significance. To-date, two foreign ringed birds have been caught, one originally ringed in the Netherlands and the other in Belgium. These two movements suggest the majority of birds may be of continental origin, which is not surprising given the small size of the British population.

It is proposed that as many Golden Plovers as possible will be caught and colour-ringed at a series of windfarm sites, both in planning and operational, and also at a range of control sites where no development is planned. Trapping and ringing will be supported by daytime observations to count birds and read leg-rings. Hopefully this data will serve to highlight any potential problem areas or alternatively to alleviate concern.

Records of more distant movements will be heavily reliant on the reports of casual observers so please keep your eyes peeled!

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