Archive for July, 2011

Kingfisher numbers: up or down?

July 30, 2011

Late last year the papers and the BBC reported that numbers of Kingfisher had gone up between 2009 and 2010 – the source was a survey run by the PR team at British Waterways.

The survey results were, of course, nonsense. Members of the public sent in observations to British Waterways wherever they happened to see a Kingfisher – nothing wrong with that. But neither the number of people recording, the places they visited or the amount of time they spent recording was in any way organised to ensure that there was consistent survey effort between years or that the places visited were representative of the places where Kingfishers live: essential if ‘citizen science’ surveys are to produce data of any value.

So now its good to report the real results – also collected by ‘the public’, but in this case in the carefully organised Breeding Bird Survey run by the British Trust for Ornithology.

Once, the publication of inaccurate PR puff surveys didn’t matter too much when the news became the next day’s chip wrappers or simply disappeared into the ether. They were just a minor slap in the face for people like me who, as well as loving wildlife, think that collecting data is worth doing well and is an important part of good nature conservation. And anyway there was a good chance people would forget the silly stuff and remember the real results. But now the silly stuff remains, practically for ever, on the web.

Oh – and the results? Not what was reported by the Beeb that numbers of Kingfishers had ‘trebled’: rather there was a about a 40% decline in Kingfisher numbers between 2009 and 2010. i.e. they nearly halved.

Last year British Waterways said the ‘increase’ showed that ‘the UK’s freshwater courses…..are cleaner and better able to support a thriving ecosystem’. Presumably they’ll blame the decline on the weather!