Marsh Award for Local Ornithology

This Award is run in partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and is awarded to a bird club or group that publishes a book, completes a study or conducts any other exceptional activity that advances the local community’s knowledge about birds.

Nominations are judged by an independent panel of experts who consider each application against agreed judging criteria.

Mike Smart 2019

Mike Smart is a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) regional representative for Gloucestershire and still organises WeBS and the Heronries Census. He has been the leading figure in Gloucestershire ornithology for many years; in addition to his BTO duties he has, until very recently, chaired Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society and was a trustee of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

Mike is a fine all-round birder, but his passion is the Curlew and he has worked tirelessly on this species’ behalf for decades, seemingly almost single-handedly at first. Winning over landowners and involving them in conservation measures, he laid the foundations for the establishment of new nature reserves and, mostly importantly, undertakes meticulous fieldwork to monitor breeding outcomes. Mike’s regular Curlew reports are legendary for their completeness and attention to detail and are an extraordinary example of how regular monitoring can lead to conservation actions.

As the plight of the Curlew worsened, Mike’s determination and work-rate on its behalf accelerated – as Mary Colwell, champion of the Curlew and recipient of the Dilys Breese Medal in 2017, writes… “This last year (2018) Mike has continued his excellent and thorough work on the Curlews of the Severn and Avon Vales, especially in Gloucestershire. He has continued to establish where the pairs are nesting, has worked with farmers and landowners to forge good relations and does an amazing job at keeping the Curlew high on the agenda in the West Country. He also a founding member of the Curlew Forum, which helps encourage and coordinate the different Curlew groups working throughout the south of England. He is, quite simply, invaluable.”

Mike’s vision, powers of persuasion, endless list of contacts and his enthusiasm have enabled the Curlew Forum to establish the multi-agency Severn Curlew Project.
The first phase of the work involves establishing a recovery programme in the Severn region. This will involve translocation; working with partners and land managers to create and improve Curlew habitat; designing innovative conservation methods; and engaging local communities. This hugely important initiative would not have happened without Mike’s energy, foresight and sheer hard work.

Previous Winners

Spurn Bird Observatory

Birds of Spurn, by the late Andy Roadhouse, was published in 2016 and is a magnificent piece of work which has received glowing reviews. The book is one of the most in-depth pieces of research and writing about a single key birdwatching site ever. It took eight years of dedicated research and writing to bring the book to fruition and sets the standard very high for other work focusing on a single site. It has provided a huge amount of ornithological knowledge for the local area. Andy was greatly supported by the Spurn Bird Observatory throughout writing the book.

The Observatory has really come into the limelight in recent years and the local community is completely behind the work of the bird observatory recognising the many benefits that birdwatchers bring to the area. The new Observation building and the Bird Migration Festival held at the site have all helped to generate a strong community feeling. Spurn Bird Observatory also stands out for its work with young people, encouraging them to visit and get involved with the work of the site. They also have a formal Friendship Agreement between Spurn, Cape May, Falsterbo and Long Point Bird Observatory. This is probably the first of its kind in the UK where they intend to promote international relationships and share best practice across the globe to further the cause of environmental awareness around the world.

Bardsey Bird Observatory

Bardsey Bird Observatory were the first bird observatory to load all their bird observation records to BirdTrack, which amounts to over 746,000 records covering the period from 1934 until 2014. The records are a great source of information for local ornithology in North Wales, and can now be utilised for national and international research projects. This work was undertaken solely by a team of volunteers who inputted the paper records from the bird log into an excel file, to format the files to be loaded into BirdTrack.

The team at the Observatory have also built strong relationships with young birders, organising a Next Generation Birders week which has run for the last three years, giving young birders, ringers and general wildlife enthusiasts the chance to gain valuable experience at a Bird Observatory.

The Cross and Stratford Welsh Chough Project

The Cross and Stratford Welsh Chough Project has, since 1991, colour-ringed more than 3,000 Welsh Choughs, producing a detailed picture of bird movements and identifying key areas for breeding. Thanks to the efforts of numerous volunteers across North and West Wales, nesting boxes have been placed in these areas, leading to an increase in the populations of Welsh Choughs over the years.

In the 1990-2000’s, when egg collecting was a major threat to rare breeds such as the Chough, the teams’ records helped in the conviction of several well-known egg collectors, and to this day when examining nests most eggs are marked to act as a deterrent to egg collectors. All the equipment used by the group is supplied voluntarily and it is mainly the support, help and friendship of the many landowners who have cooperated which has helped the growth of this project.

 

Malcolm Burgess

Malcolm Burgess set up the South West Pied Flycatcher Monitoring Network which since 2011 has developed into the website, Piedfly.net. This network encourages and promotes community schemes which monitor the Pied Flycatcher bird throughout Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, before submitting all recorded data to the BTO. The network is run by Malcolm on an entirely voluntary basis, and relies solely on the unpaid efforts and financial support of volunteers.

The network includes 40 nestbox schemes with more than 2000 boxes in total. It has also been successful in computerising all existing records, some of which relate to schemes that have been running since the 1970s and 1980s. Malcolm organises and annual conference for the network volunteers, featuring presentations by national and international experts and broadens members’ interest with talks on wider woodland birds and ecology.

PiedFly.net is a model of how to enthuse and coordinate volunteer recording on a regional scale to provide massively valuable scientific data as well as building local support.

The Friends of Skokholm and Skomer

The Friends of Skokholm and Skomer have been instrumental in helping the Island of Skokholm to regain its position as a leading bird observatory. The team worked with the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales to develop volunteer-led restoration projects of the island’s buildings and facilities, which now accept guests and visiting ornithologists again.

The Friends are made up of around 440 people from all over Britain who are enthusiastic and passionate about the Islands. The success of this restoration has only been possible thanks to the determination and drive of the group, who have given an immeasurable amount of time and dedication into restoring Skokholm to its former glory.

Jim Cassells

Jim Cassells was the Atlas Regional Organiser for the Isle of Arran during the Bird Atlas project which ran from 2007-2011. Jim was successful in engaging the whole community of Arran in the project, helped largely by his foundation of the Atlas Birding website. In total, around 700 local people submitted their records for the Atlas, which around 80 of these being submitted via Jim’s website. They achieved complete coverage of the 139 tetrads on Arran in five winters and five breeding seasons, creating over 36,000 records of 184 species.

Jim managed to engage the local community through articles in the local newspaper, producing regular newsletters, giving talks and building special atlas pages on the Arran birding website to give regular updates and progress. The website encouraged visitors to the island, especially those who visited on a regular basis, to take part and bird walks were organised two or three times a year to give locals valuable fieldwork experience.

The Hertfordshire Bird Club

The BTO Bird Atlas 2007-11 provided the opportunity for many local bird clubs or societies to undertake their own local tetrad based Atlases. The Hertfordshire Bird Club was one of these and was the first to place its reporting and results on-line. The Atlas (Hertfordshire Bird Atlas) website developed by Chris Dee for the Bird Club has grown to be an archive of the status of birds in Hertfordshire. Its detail includes previous data from three Atlases, all now electronically mapped, with hidden but accessible geographical data showing towns, local bird hot spots, tetrad names and numbers and the breeding status of the species chosen.

The success of this website has inspired a similar site, by Chris Dee, for the Bedfordshire Atlas. The Hertfordshire site is exceptional and is a precursor as to how many local Atlases will be undertaken and reported in the future.

Henfield Birdwatch

Henfield Birdwatch has been able to involve many people in the local community in ornithology in their local area, from those who were already keen birdwatchers, to those who may be housebound but able to record birds in their gardens.

The group have also produced a book, Henfield Birdwatch 2010, a 96 page illustrated book which details information about the birds in the parish of Henfield in West Sussex. This was produced as a result of surveying over 150 local people.

Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society

In recognition of the outstanding contribution the Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society has made to local ornithology with their publication ‘Birds in Cheshire and Wirral: a breeding and wintering atlas’.

Cheshire and Wirral provides a wide range of habitats for birds, from the internationally important estuaries of the Dee and Mersey in the west to the high moors of the Peak District National Park in the east. During 2004 and 2007 more than 350 volunteers spent over 50,000 hours surveying each 2×2 km square in Cheshire and Wirral, recording every bird species in both the breeding season and in winter. This work revealed dramatic changes in bird populations since the county’s last census of 1978-84.