WOS Conference 2009

The 2009 Conference and AGM was held in Llanrwst, Conwy, where the attendance of over 90 delegates showed the interest in the subject. We were rewarded by an excellent programme of speakers with a wide range of expertise on the topic. First we were treated to a video introduction from our newly appointed President, Iolo Williams. He thanked David Saunders, “a wonderful man”, for his tenure as the previous President and said his objective was to encourage WOS to have a more effective impact on conservation in Wales.

A historic perspective
Tim Stowe appeared in person although he has now left as Director, Wales to be International Director for the RSPB. His Introduction session set the pattern for the day by mentioning the four iconic woodland species of the Principality: Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Tree Pipit. Setting out the history of woodlands back to the Iron Age, he showed the human impact on this much altered habitat. Large tracts of natural woodlands were reduced to a low point of 3-4% coverage. This has subsequently increased, mainly due to conifer plantations. For the future, climate change, especially if the higher estimates of temperature rise come about, could render a substantial increase in the area of Wales unsuitable for the growth of trees.

The good and bad of conifers
Rod Leslie – former head of Forest Enterprise England – spoke about Birds and Forestry – with 14% coverage, Wales is now the most afforested UK country. He admitted to mistakes made by upland conifer afforestation and its impact on upland birds such as Golden Plover, and described the problems caused by acidification due to atmospheric pollution from regional sources, but said this had now improved as a result of cleaner air. Siskin and Crossbill flourished in conifers, which also had a beneficial effect on Hen Harriers and Goshawks. More recently, a patchwork of different ages of plantation provide good condition for breeding Nightjars and Honey Buzzards. In the future, more diverse forest is likely due to the implementation of low impact silviculture.

Why are woodland birds declining?
Ken Smith used results from a study by the RSPB and BTO to suggest some of the hypotheses for the cause of woodland bird decline. These included woodland management, agriculture practices, climate change, predation, deer browsing, migration problems and lack of invertebrates. There is no single hypothesis to explain the declines in woodland birds and a range of factors may be at work. He was particularly concerned about the trends in woodland species and suggested that difficulties birds are experiencing on their long distance migration might be a significant factor.

Secret lives in the forest
Tony Cross followed Rod Leslie’s point about the increase in Nightjar populations due to forest management to show the results of his work on Nightjars in a Welsh cloud forest. As these birds are only active at sunrise and sunset they present a challenge to survey and monitor. His brilliant film and photography revealed many features of this fascinating bird and radio tagging was used to extend our knowledge of the movements of this species. Jerry Lewis gave a fascinating talk on his work on Hawfinch in the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border. This is usually regarded as an uncommon species but Jerry’s work ringing these birds shows them to be more common than the records indicate. He has developed techniques that enable this usually wary species to be ringed in sufficent numbers for a clearer pattern of the productivity and survival rates to be ascertained. Paul Toyne, like Jerry Lewis, showed us what patient, persistent field work can tell us about secretive species. His talk on the The Goshawk in Wales described the results of a study carried out on a 320,000 ha area in mid Wales over many years. Field markers such as splash marks and plucking posts told him the birds were present but it was not so easy to track down the 85 nests he subsequently discovered and studied.

Double bill from the BTO
Graham Appleton developed the theme on woodland migrants mentioned by Ken Smith. The title – Double trouble for woodland migrants – highlighted that not only do migrants experience problems on their journey , they also need to arrive at the optimum time to breed successfully. Graham later returned to the stage to set out plans to develop the BTO in Wales. The delegates were pleased to hear of the development of a permanently staffed regional office in north Wales in 2010.

After the usual fiendishly difficult quiz prepared by Peter Lansdown, Chairman Derek Moore closed the conference by paying tribute to the excellent speakers and thanking everybody involved in what was a very successful day.