The new Birds of Nottinghamshire has been a long-term project for the county bird club, Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers. It has taken over 8 years from the first planning meeting for the new avifauna at The Nelson public house in Winthorpe to the publication of the book by Liverpool University Press in 2019.
The Birds of Nottinghamshire is the first comprehensive account of the birds of the county in over four decades and contributes to a longer study of the birdlife of the county which has its origins in the pioneering work done by local Victorian and Edwardian naturalists.
A brief history of birds and bird recording in Nottinghamshire
The casual visitor to Mansfield Museum, pausing to glance at the faded label attached to Britain’s first Egyptian Nightjar, which was shot in Thieves Wood in 1883, may be unaware that Nottinghamshire has a long history of bird recording stretching back to the middle years of the nineteenth century. Much of this pioneering work was done by amateur naturalists such as William Sterland from Ollerton and Joseph Whitaker of Rainworth. The accounts of Sterland and Whitaker give a picture of the birdlife of what was then still an agricultural county, with significant tracts of lowland heath and mature deciduous woodland. These habitats supported a range of interesting species including Black Grouse, Stone-curlew, Northern Wheatear, Corn Crake, Whinchat, Wood Warbler, Common Nightingale, Hawfinch, European Nightjar and Tree Pipit. Sterland and Whitaker also published details of several rare and scarce birds which had been found in Nottinghamshire including, in addition to the Egyptian Nightjar, the first British reports of Lesser Yellowlegs (1854/55), Black-headed Bunting (1884) and Dusky Thrush (1905). Excluding a few historical records which have not stood the test of time, at the date that Whitaker wrote his final, comprehensive, account of the birds of Nottinghamshire in 1907, the county bird list had reached 252 species,with 106 species having bred in the county on at least one occasion. However, four apparently regular breeding species in the early years of the nineteenth century (Red Kite, Merlin, Twite and Wryneck) had already ceased to breed by 1900.
Seven decades on, when Austen Dobbs wrote the last full account of the birds of Nottinghamshire, much had changed. Stone-curlew (1891), Black Grouse (c1910), Cirl Bunting (1940s), Corn Crake (1968) and Northern Wheatear (1970) had all become extinct as breeders in Nottinghamshire and several other species were undergoing a significant reduction in range and numbers which would lead to further losses in the years ahead. Many of these losses were linked to significant changes in land use, particularly the loss of lowland heath and agricultural intensification and the growing pressures created by an ever-expanding local population. However, these losses of species, and the landscapes which supported them, had been partially compensated for by other changes that had taken place, notably the extraction of gravel at various localities in the Trent and Idle Valleys. These sites, when flooded and managed with wildlife in mind, provided fresh opportunities for a whole range of new breeding species to colonise the county. The middle decades of the twentieth century therefore witnessed the colonisation of the county by a whole range of wetland birds including Black-headed Gull (1928), Eurasian Curlew (1944), Common Pochard (1945), Common Tern (1945), Little Ringed Plover (1956), Gadwall (1968), Greylag Goose (1971), Ringed Plover (1974) and Black-necked Grebe (1974). As a result, the list of birds which had bred in the county had grown to 129 species by 1975 and the total county bird list had risen to 287 species by the same date.
Four and half decades later, the total number of species recorded in Nottinghamshire has continued to rise and had reached 334 species by 2018, with some surprising and memorable recent rarities including Bufflehead (1994), Redhead (1996), Cedar Waxwing (1996), Little Swift (2001), Blyth’s Pipit (2002), Sora (2004) and Steppe Grey Shrike (2009). As a result, Nottinghamshire currently has the longest bird list of any county in the East or West Midlands. The pattern of losses and gains in the breeding population of birds in the county has also continued. There have been several further losses amongst woodland and heathland breeding species, with Red-backed Shrike (1977), Wood Warbler (1996), Lesser Redpoll (2002), Whinchat (2007) and Common Nightingale (2010) all having disappearing in this period. This is a continuing process and other formerly familiar breeding birds, notably species associated with lowland farming such as Corn Bunting and Turtle Dove, together with waders such as Common Redshank, Common Snipe and Eurasian Curlew, have undergone a sharp decline in breeding numbers since the publication of the last county avifauna in 1975.
Compensation has again come from the colonisation of the county by new wetland species, including several specialist wetland and reedbed breeding birds such as Avocet (2008), Eurasian Bittern (2015) and Bearded Tit (2016) following specific habitat creation at sites such as Attenborough NR and Langford Lowfields. Human agency has also contributed to the growing breeding list for the county in two other key respects. Firstly, Nottinghamshire has been colonised by a number of predatory birds which have been subject to active measures to prevent persecution such as Peregrine Falcon (2004), Northern Raven (2006) and Marsh Harrier (2009). Secondly, there is a growing list of feral breeding birds which have become established in the county including Northern Goshawk (1980s), Barnacle Goose (1990s), Egyptian Goose (1998), Mandarin Duck (2000) and Red-crested Pochard (2001). Other species such as Cetti’s Warbler (2007), Little Egret (2013) and Mediterranean Gull (2016) have spread to the county because of larger processes of climate change and have contributed to the total of 154 species which had bred or attempted to breed in Nottinghamshire by 2018.
The new avifauna
The new Birds of Nottinghamshire is intended to capture the status of the birdlife in the county in the second decade of the twenty-first century and to analyse the shifting fortunes of the various species breeding in or visiting the county since the Victorian era.
The key sources for the current avifauna are the records of the county bird club, Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers and the local and national surveys undertaken by the BTO and others. Founded in 1935 and originally called the Trent Valley Bird Watchers, the county bird club has assumed the lead role in documenting the birds found across the county. The club published its first annual bird report in 1943 and has produced a yearly assessment of the status and distribution of the species found in Nottinghamshire ever since. Those annual reports draw on the observations of local birders from across the county. The new avifauna is therefore also a testament to the significant expansion in birdwatching as a recreational activity between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as the recording of birds by a small number of amateur naturalists, often members of the gentry with the time and energy to note the birds which they saw in the local area, has given way to an increase in the number of people with the time and commitment to actively record and report birds in this county. It is hoped that the publication of the new Birds of Nottinghamshire will stimulate further study of the birdlife of the county.
Find out more about The Birds of Nottinghamshire on our website.
Our pre-publication offer has been extended until 21st December 2019! Order your copy for £25.00 with discount code BIRDOFFER.