National Willow Tit Survey

Our endemic race of Willow Tit is the second-fastest declining species in the UK, after Turtle Dove, and is Red-listed. This resident species, which is highly sedentary remaining in an area centred on the breeding territory throughout the year, has been lost from large areas of southern and eastern England in recent years. RSPB and others have conducted research into causes of decline, and eliminated a number of potential causes which seem unlikely to be causing the large scale declines.

One of the potential causes that need investigating further is whether deterioration in habitat quality is affecting this species. One of the main habitats that willow tits occupy in Britain is damp young woodland. This habitat is often short lived with sites frequently drying out and developing into mature woodland over 20-30 years.  RSPB and other organisations, including Natural England, are currently trialling woodland management solutions for Willow Tit, and the species is part of the Back From the Brink HLF project (https://naturebftb.co.uk/the-projects/willow-tit/), involving detailed study of daily movements and habitat use as well as habitat management.

However, due to the declining numbers, monitoring the species is becoming increasingly difficult. Whilst the BTO/JNCC/RSPB UK Breeding Bird Survey is still able to produce an annual trend, the sample had fallen to just 46 squares by 2017. Although collation of records by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel is useful for the design of future surveys, it is currently insufficient to enable robust population estimates, measures of change or maps of current distribution to be produced: thus a national survey is needed if our conservation work is going to be properly underpinned by evidence.

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