WOS Conference 2010

The national WOS conference, in association with RSPB Cymru and BTO Wales, was held at Carno Community Centre, Powys, on Saturday 6 November 2010, as Alan Williams reports.

WOS president Iolo Williams opened the proceedings with his usual mix of wry humour and solid facts on the state of birds and their habitats in Wales in 2010. A quick roundup of the developments on the reserves such as the extension of RSPB Ynys-hir was followed by reference to some of the setbacks in breeding success due to predation, habitat loss and harsh weather. It was not all about birds; with the success of the otters getting a mention but the draining of a great crested newt pond while fighting a moorland fire.

Bird species had variable success with red kite stated to be ‘too many to count’, honey buzzard not doing so well, one confirmed breeding pair of osprey but no bittern as yet. Hobby is doing well now ‘more common than kestrel’ in some parts of Wales.

The BTO’s Chas Holt’s talk on the Wetland Birds in Wales, the theme of this year’s conference, took us through the various surveys that are used to monitor the numbers of species and individuals of this important assemblage of birds in the Principality. With our (relatively) wet climate, the estuaries and coastal habitat on major migration routes and wintering grounds Wales has much to offer. Climate change may be having an adverse effect on some species such as Dunlin that now winter on the European mainland coasts due to milder weather. Chas went on to list the ups and downs of various species; goldeneye and pochard in decline but shoveler doing better. He went on to make a plea for more observers to increase the coverage of surveys on wetland habitats and species.

Dawn Balmer came to talk about the BTO Breeding and Wintering Atlas. Her enthusiasm is undiminished since she spoke to us when the project started three years ago. Now she has some results and an impressive list of what has been done so far. Typically she was not satisfied and ‘plenty more to do’ was the recurring theme of her talk. Like other speakers, her list was one of a few successful species but these were outnumbered by those in decline.

Iolo Williams with children at the opening of RSPB Newport Wetlands Centre, Newport, Wales

The conference then concentrated on specific wetland locations with Tom Dalrymple’s talk on Newport Wetlands Reserve. This is increasingly becoming an important reserve for south east Wales and regularly holds good numbers of wetland species. It was set up as a mitigation site following the Cardiff Bay Barrage scheme and was handed over from the developers in 2000. In 2008 a visitor centre was built which is run by RSPB. During its short life, the Reserve has developed and matured. Over 65 hectares of reedbeds were planted on what were the nearby power station’s pulverised fuel ash disposal areas. These now attract nationally important numbers of breeding water rail and Cetti’s warbler and are the first breeding site for bearded tit in Wales after decades of absence. At the other end of the reserve are the famous saline lagoons, which have become a home to Wales’ first pairs of breeding avocets.

After an excellent lunch prepared by the ladies of Carno and plenty of time to catch up with friends old and new, Ian Hawkins spoke about the RSPB’s wetland restoration work at Malltraeth in Anglesey’s Cefni Valley. Much of this area was drained for farming more than a century ago, but in just a decade the area has been turned into a reedbed and wet grassland, with regular wintering bittern and, like Newport, Catti’s warbler and water rail.

The RSPB’s Dave Lamacraft stood in for Patrick Lindley with results of golden plover surveys in the Elenydd area of the Cambrian Mountains, where numbers have fallen from more than 200 pairs in the 1970s to fewer than 40 pairs today. The reasons for this have been analysed and work is underway to cut and graze the vegetation to open up potential nesting areas.

As we headed for the close, WOS chairman Derek Moore reported on his observations of little ringed plovers on the Tywi, Carmarthenshire, one of the strongholds for the species in Wales thanks to its natural shingle banks and islands. Carl Mitchell from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust told us about his findings on work on goosanders, a breeding species that has done well in Wales in recent decades, and Birds in Wales editor Dr Steph Tyler updated the audience on her long-running studies of upland river species, particularly dipper.

To finish, Dee Doody entertained us with some evocative images of Wales’ wetland birds, a fitting celebration on which to end a successful conference.