It is with great sadness that we have to report that Renton has lost his fight with cancer, dying surrounded by his family on 8 November 2022.
Berkshire’s wildlife has lost one of its most effective champions, and many of us have also lost a valued friend and colleague. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for his work for many years as chair of the Berkshire Ornithological Club’s conservation sub-committee, his contribution to promoting the Lea Farm reserve in the Loddon valley, his attempts to move the long-stalled Padworth Lane restoration project forward, his hours spent on local bird surveys, his enormous contribution to the Berkshire Bird Atlas Group and the publication of “The Birds of Berkshire“, and to the club’s activities as Hon Secretary, Chair and latterly President. Renton’s memorable review of the changes to Berkshire’s bird fauna over the last 75 years given at the club’s anniversary meeting has recently been published as the “Berkshire’s Birdscapes” booklet, a document that is expected to be influential in guiding local environmental planning decisions.
Renton was a bio-chemist by training and was a visiting professor at the Universities of Reading and Kent. He was passionate about wildlife. A charity close to his heart was the World Land Trust, a remarkable organisation that with modest resources has helped save, safeguard and restore tracts of some of the world’s most threatened habitats, particularly in South America. He served as a trustee of the World Land Trust for twelve years, latterly as Chair.
The funeral will be for family and close friends. A memorial occasion will be arranged for a later date when it is hoped that some members of the club will attend.
To celebrate the Berkshire Ornithological Club’s 75th anniversary, the Club has published a lavishly illustrated, booklet, Berkshire’s Birdscapes, by Renton Righelato, which reviews the changes in the Royal County’s landscapes and breeding birds since the Club’s inception in 1947. Changes in agriculture, changes in woodland management, urban growth and extensive development of wetland reserves have driven major changes in our breeding birds.
Despite losing some much-loved species, the last 75 years have seen a substantial increase in the number of bird species breeding in Berkshire. Several farmland species have been lost or have declined substantially, largely as a result of arable intensification, and some woodland specialist birds are being lost. However, warmer winters, growing areas of coniferous woodland and, above all, the restoration of gravel working to create wetlands have brought us many more new species than we have lost.
Berkshire’s Birdscapes can be purchased from the BOC. whose members will receive a free copy.
Last night Professor Will Cresswell gave the first of a number of talks this year by the UK’s leading ornithological scientists. It was a fascinating exploration of how our summer migrants use Africa, with new insights into how their migrations may have evolved and a discussion of the pressures they face as the continent develops. If you missed it, a recording will soon be available.
Next in the series , on 19th January,will be the joint University of Reading/BOC Annual Lcture given by Professor Nick Davis, FRS, from Cambridge, who will talk on his work on the behavious of Cuckoos. His book, “Cheating by Nature” is some of the best nature writing you can find – an infectious, erudite account of an evolutionary arms race between cuckoos and their hosts.
Then, on 2nd March, Professor Juliet Vickery, the Chief Executive of the British Trust for Ornithology, will discuss some of the work of the Trust that underpins our understanding of the UK’s birds.
With the anticipated relaxation of the “stay at home” rule on 29th March, we plan to start our breeding season survey programme at the beginning of April. The government’s roadmap indicates that meeting outdoors with up to six people will be allowed (though social distancing measures should be maintained). Furthermore the voluntary or charitable activities exemption is considered by the BTO to apply, which means that volunteers can continue survey activities without restrictions on travel or group size (see below). The BOC surveys planned are:
- farmland specialist birds on several downland sites in West Berkshire, organised by Neil Bucknell. The target species include Lapwing, Skylark, Yellow Wagtail, Linnet, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting. If you would like to help, contact Neil email@example.com
- breeding Peregrines across the County. Please let Patrick Crowley know of any Peregrines that you think may be breeding. We are seeking surveyors to monitor both urban sites and rural sites where there are structures, such as pylons, on which Peregrines may breed. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Aldermaston Gravel Pits breeding bird surveys.
BTO Surveys The British Trust for Ornithology’s guidance for England is reproduced below:
BTO volunteers in England can carry out fieldwork under the ‘voluntary or charitable activities’ exemption. This means that survey volunteers can continue survey activities without restrictions on travel or group sizes.
This element of the legislation does not impose specific restrictions beyond the need to maintain social distancing. It is, however, vital that volunteers consider the risks of their activities in relation to both disease transmission and sanctions being imposed by the authorities, noting that interpretation of guidance by the latter may vary from region to region. Both risks are likely to increase with the distance travelled and the size of the group undertaking the activity, so lone/pair working undertaken locally is the ideal in this respect. If you are in a location where you are conscious of heightened risk (e.g. active testing for a new variant is ongoing), please exercise extreme caution.
The Peregrine Falcon is a charismatic bird that for most birders lights up a day’s birdwatching. It is the fastest bird in the world and is a supreme flier. And now there are some in Berkshire!
It is seven years since there was a national Peregrine Falcon survey in the UK. Since then, there has been a significant increase in the number of breeding Peregrines, particularly in towns and cities, with birds breeding on tall buildings, cathedrals, churches, power stations, chimneys and pylons, etc. They take readily to nest boxes placed on these structures, and this has been found to increase their chance of success. Recently, breeding has been seen in Newbury and Bracknell, and birds are present in Reading, Maidenhead and Slough.
In 2021 we are planning a survey of Peregrines in Berkshire, which will concentrate on towns, with some effort on pylons if time and effort allow. Ideally there are three main periods for surveys, mid- February to late March to establish the presence of a pair, April to confirm their presence, and June and July to confirm breeding by looking for juveniles. The survey needs no special skills, just some regular time to check out potential or known sites, especially when the young are fledging and learning to fly.
Because of Covid-19, the extent of work possible at the moment is restricted to what can be done during daily exercise, such as during a lunch hour. As the restrictions reduce, we very much hope that by the crucial period in June and July, there will be no problem with surveying.
If you are interested in helping in this survey, especially if you are already seeing peregrines in a town or on a manmade structure, please get in touch with Patrick Crowley by email on email@example.com.
The survey results, respecting the confidentiality of some sites that may be required, will be published in the Birds of Berkshire Annual Report.
12 February 2021
2021 Turtle Dove Survey – England
As many will know, the Turtle Dove has been in serious decline in the UK and in Berkshire the situation is particularly acute as the species has now become uncommon and an extremely local summer visitor which continues to decline.
In view of the general situation across the country, a new survey is being planned to assess the status of the dove in England in 2021, subject to Covid-19 conditions. The survey is being organised by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP) and RSPB, with the support of BTO and Natural England. It is hoped that county-level surveys can be conducted in core counties across the known range, with coverage of known sites or recent historical sites in other counties. Berkshire is no longer a core county but surveys here will contribute to the assessment of the dove’s current status and also of recent historical sites.
Surveys will aim to detect the presence and abundance of singing male Turtle Doves with two visits between mid-May and early August. Each survey should be undertaken between sunrise and 0900hrs: 70% of singing males should be detected within the first two hours after sunrise, after which vocal activity decreases markedly.
If you are interested, please see the RBBP webpage for more information https://rbbp.org.uk/turtle-dove-2021/ and contact Simon Wotton, RSPB, who is coordinating the survey (Email: Simon.Wotton@rspb.org.uk).
Sean Murphy, BTO Regioanl Representative
Conservation note: Whether or not you take part in the survey, if you are lucky enough to find a Turtle Dove in Berkshire, please tell the County Recorder as soon as possible – the BOC conservation team is ready to work with landowners on measures to support breeding attempts.
The Birds of Berkshire Conservation Fund is open for grant proposals that contribute to bird conservation in the county. The fund supports a wide range of conservation work, including site protection, nest-box schemes, monitoring work and habitat management. Applications for grants, which are normally in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, are assessed by the BOC Conservation subcommittee on their contribution to conservation, feasibility and value for money. See http://berksoc.org.uk/conservation/conservation-fund/ for details and application form. Applications received by the end of March will be reviewed by the end of April.
Although it was possible to carry out some surveys during last summer, with the current covid situation and restrictions on movement, no BOC surveys are planned for this winter. We sincerely hope that the present measures will control the coronavirus epidemic sufficiently to allow freer and safer movement in the countryside in the Spring. The current BTO advice is quoted below:
“In England, BTO surveys are technically permitted to continue through the exemption provided by the ‘voluntary or charitable activities’ clause which became applicable in November following guidance from Defra. However, the situation throughout the UK is currently extremely serious and we would very strongly advise all volunteers to err on the side of caution and adhere to the restrictions imposed on the general public. In England, this entails limiting your survey activities to within the boundary of the property in which you reside.”
We are delighted to announce that Marek Walford has been appointed Berkshire County Bird Recorder, following the sad loss of Richard Burness in January. Marek is well-known to birders in Berkshire for his excellent news site: berksbirds.co.uk. Since 2005 he has managed the county records database and has been a key part of the team that produces the annual Birds of Berkshire report. We look forward to working with him in his new role.
Robert Godden, Chair BOC.
Marek commented: I’m very proud and excited to get this opportunity, and to continue the good work that Dick Burness was doing. There’s a great team on the Records Committee and Editorial Board and together we will continue to improve bird recording in Berkshire. If anybody has any questions I’m always happy to help if I can, so please feel free to email me,
Marek Walford, Berkshire County Bird Recorder
telephone 0774 868 2099
30 Bellingham Walk, Emmer Green, Reading RG4 8LS
Following Government advice to stay home, we postponed this Spring’s BOC surveys at the end of March. Now that the advice has been relaxed, surveying may be carried out whilst exercising, provided the guidance on social distancing and on vulnerable groups is adhered to. However, we do not wish to encourage anyone to go out unnecessarily or if they feel at all uncomfortable about it. You may also wish to see the guidance from the British Trust for Ornithology.
It is now too late in the season for many surveys, though we would welcome casual records of farmland specialist species, particularly Corn Bunting, Yellow Wagtail and Curlew; and records of Willow and Marsh Tits (to submit records see http://berksoc.org.uk/recording/submitting-records/ ). We are also seeking reports of breeding grebes (please fill in the online questionnaire http://berksoc.org.uk/recording/surveys/grebes-survey/).