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The Birdwatchers' CodeAlmost three million adults go birdwatching every year in the UK.1 Following The Birdwatchers' Code is good practice, common sense and should enable us all to enjoy seeing birds. It puts the interests of birds first and respects other people, whether or not they are interested in birds. It applies not just when you are at a nature reserve, but whenever you are watching birds in the UK or abroad. It will be most effective if we lead by example and sensitively challenge the minority of birdwatchers who behave inappropriately.
Five things to remember:
The interests of the bird come firstBirds respond to people in many ways, depending on the species, location and time of year. Disturbance can keep birds from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take eggs or young. During cold weather or when migrants have just made a long flight, repeatedly flushing birds can mean they use up vital energy that they need for feeding. Intentional or reckless disturbance of some species at or near the nest is illegal in Britain.
Whether your particular interest is photography, ringing, sound-recording or birdwatching, remember that the interests of the bird must always come first.
Be an ambassador for birdwatchingThink about your fieldcraft and behaviour, not just so that you can enjoy your birdwatching, but so others can too.
Respond positively to questions from interested passers-by. They may not be birdwatchers yet, but a good view of a bird or a helpful answer may light a spark of interest. Your enthusiasm could start a lifetime's interest in birds and a greater appreciation of wildlife and its conservation.
Consider using local services, such as pubs, restaurants and petrol stations, and public transport. Raising awareness of the benefits to local communities of trade from visiting birdwatchers may, ultimately, help the birds themselves.
Know the rules for visiting the countryside, and follow themRespect the wishes of local residents and landowners, and don't enter private land without permission unless it is open for public access on foot. Follow the codes on access and the countryside for the place you're walking in (see 'Access to the countryside', below). Irresponsible behaviour may cause a land manager to deny access to others (eg for necessary survey work). It may also disturb the bird or give birdwatching bad coverage in the media.
Access to the countrysideLegislation provides access for walkers to open country in Britain, and includes measures to protect wildlife. Note that the rules and codes are different in each part of Britain, so plan ahead and make sure you know what you can do.
In England and Wales, access is to land mapped as mountain, moor, heath and down, and to registered common land. However, local restrictions may be in force, so follow the Countryside Code and plan your visit. In England, the Countryside Code and maps showing areas for public access are online at www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk. In Wales, access maps are at www.ccw.gov.uk/tirgofal and the Countryside Code at www.codcefngwlad.org.uk.
Although there is no statutory right of access in Northern Ireland, there is lots of information, including the Country Code, at www.countrysiderecreation.com.
Make your sightings countAdd to tomorrow's knowledge of birds by sending your sightings to www.birdtrack.net. This online recording scheme from the BTO, RSPB and BirdWatch Ireland enables you to store all your birdwatching records and support species and site conservation. With one click, you can have you records forwarded automatically to the relevant county recorder.
Send your sightings to county recorders and local bird clubs, a mainstay of bird recording in the UK. Your records are important for local conservation and to build the county's ornithological history. For a list of the County Bird Recorders, visit www.britishbirds.co.uk/countyrecorders or ask at your local library.
Get involved in national monitoring schemes too, such as the Breeding Bird Survey and the Wetland Bird Survey (see www.bto.org for details).
If you've been birdwatching abroad, visit www.worldbirds.org and give your sightings to the BirdLife International Partner in that country. Your data could be vital in protecting sites and species in the country you've visited.
Rare birdsMobile phones, telephone and pager services and the internet mean you can now share your sightings instantly. If you discover a rare bird, please bear the following in mind:
If you have the opportunity to see a rare bird, enjoy it, but don't let your enthusiasm override common sense. In addition to the guidelines above:
The lawLaws protecting birds and their habitats have helped to secure the conservation of many species. They are the result of hard campaigning by generations of birdwatchers. We must make sure that we don't allow them to fall into disrepute.
In England, Scotland and Wales, it is a criminal offence to disturb, intentionally or recklessly, at or near the nest, a species listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (see www.rspb.org.uk for a full list). Disturbance could include playback of songs and calls. The courts can impose fines of up to £5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to six months for each offence.The government can, for particular reasons such as scientific study, issue licences to individuals that permit limited disturbance, including monitoring of nests and ringing.
In Scotland, disturbance of capercaillie and ruffs at leks is also an offence. It is a criminal offence to disturb intentionally a bird at or near the nest under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
It is a criminal offence to destroy or damage, intentionally or recklessly, a special interest feature of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or to disturb the wildlife for which the site was notified. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a fine of up to £20,000 may be imposed by the Magistrates' Court, or an unlimited fine by the Crown Court. In Scotland, the maximum fine on summary conviction is £40,000, or an unlimited fine on conviction on indictment.
If you witness anyone who you suspect may be illegally disturbing or destroying wildlife or habitat, phone the police immediately (ideally, with a six-figure map reference) and report it to the RSPB.
The birdwatchers' code has been produced by a partnership of
The Association of County Recorders and Editors
The British Ornithologists' Union
British Trust for Ornithology
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Rare Bird Alert
1. 2.85 million adults aged over 15 in Britain go birdwatching regularly or occasionally (Target Group Index, BMRB International 2004).
All LDBWS web pages are the copyright of Lancaster and District Birdwatching Society and should not be reproduced elsewhere without the express permission of the Society. The opinions expressed in the LDBWS newsletter are not necessarily those of the Society. The content of LDBWS Member's Web Pages is the responsibility of the member concerned. LDBWS ask all birdwatchers to observe the Birdwatchers' Code of Conduct and the Country Code.