Friday, 9 February 2007

Take on the challenge

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the BBC have just launched a major new project, seeking to follow the fortunes of our nesting birds. Called “The Nestbox Challenge” the scheme forms the centrepiece of this year’s National Nestbox Week (an annual event initiated by the BTO and Jacobi Jayne). Tradition has it that songbirds pair up on February 14th and National Nestbox Week, running from 11th-17th February, provides the focus for a host of nestbox-related events up and down the country. Many of these events are being coordinated by BBC local radio or television and are geared towards children, often providing the opportunity to build your own nestbox.

The Nestbox Challenge itself is what the Americans would call a “Citizen Science” project, where you (the “citizens”) collect information that can make a valuable addition to our scientific understanding. The Challenge is an online survey (visit to access the survey), so you will need a computer and access to the Internet. In addition you will need a nestbox – either one that is already in your garden or a new one that you have just put up. I have already visited the website to register the robin nestbox in our garden and found the whole process very straightforward. Asked to enter some basic details about my garden, such as where it is, how big it is and what sort of plants it contains, I could then log details about my robin box. Once I had entered this information, I could then view its location by using a built-in satellite view of the earth. Now all I need to do is keep an eye on the box, watch to see if nesting birds are using it and then log the details of how the nest is progressing. Guidance is given on how to monitor the nestboxes without disturbing the nesting birds and what information is needed by the researchers.

It is hoped that results from the Challenge will enable researchers based at the BTO to examine the nesting patterns of familiar species like blue tit, blackbird, robin and spotted flycatcher, and to find out how nesting success may be influenced by location, garden type, the presence of predators (like cats) and weather. Understanding such interactions is important if we are to determine the effects of a changing environment (and climate) on our wildlife. The project also serves to engage people with wildlife, providing you with an opportunity to discover new things. Being part of an army of citizen scientists also means that you are making a valuable contribution to conservation science within Britain. So go on, put up a nestbox (or register one already in place) and take the Nestbox Challenge. 

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