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SOS survey plans for 2019

At the October meeting of the SOS Scientific Committee we discussed plans for forthcoming survey work. On-going projects such as WeBS, BBS and SDFBI will continue as usual but there are two new projects planned for 2019.

National Willow Tit Survey

The endemic race of Willow Tit (Poecile montanus kleinschmidti) is the second-fastest declining species in the UK, after Turtle Dove, and is Red-listed. This resident subspecies has been lost from large areas of southern and eastern England in recent years.

In 2019 RSPB are organising a national Willow Tit survey which SOS have been asked to support. Although we are pretty sure that Willow Tits are no longer present in Sussex there are a few tantalising records that hint that they may just be hanging on in an odd corner of wet woodland. The new playback protocol which will be used in this survey has found Willow Tits in woods where they had been thought extinct, notably in Hampshire, so there is an outside chance that they will be found in Sussex too. We have decided that it is worth having a concerted look at the last few places with definite or probable records just to be absolutely sure. We think this comes to about a dozen sites/tetrads.

This will be an early spring survey with two visits between mid-February and mid-April using playback every few hundred metres to attract the birds. We have been assured that a mobile phone is all the equipment needed for the playback and a set of standard calls will be available for download. You will of course need to know how to download calls onto your mobile and how to make it play them which may be a challenge for some of us! If you are taking part in the survey there will be no need for a licence to use playback. If there is enough demand, we will organise a training day in January/early February to try out the protocol.

If you would like to help with the survey or know of a likely site that should be surveyed please contact Rich Black now so he can feed it into the planning for the survey. A list of priority sites/tetrads should be available before Christmas.

Contact: Rich Black (

SOS Turtle Dove survey

Turtle Dove is the most rapidly declining species in UK and is the subject of a conservation initiative involving many organisations (Operation Turtle Dove). The core breeding range now stretches from Hampshire through Sussex and Kent and into East Anglia. Sussex is very much on the southwest edge of the range but still holds significant and nationally important numbers. In the 2008-11 breeding atlas there was evidence of breeding (proved, probable and possible) in 195 Sussex tetrads. Since then there have been between 200-300 records submitted each year. There are also at least two sites in the county (Butcherlands SWT and the Knepp Estate) where Turtle Dove numbers have increased in response to large scale habitat change.

Our objectives in 2019 will be to look for changes in the distribution of Turtle Doves in Sussex over the last decade and to estimate the county population by re-surveying a sample of tetrads which held breeding birds during the 2008-11 atlas.

To allow comparisons with the 2008-11 atlas data the tetrad will be the basic sampling unit. We will ask observers to undertake two complete surveys of their tetrad between mid-May and the end of July. We will provide maps and recording forms. The tetrads will be selected randomly from those with breeding evidence in the 2008-11 atlas. Our current thinking is that we will need to survey around 80 tetrads but the exact number will depend on the level of support. In addition to the formal survey we will encourage observers to submit all records of Turtle Doves and check out their local haunts over the summer.

Over the last few years RSPB have monitored a sample of 1km squares nationally to understand the effectiveness of Turtle Dove recovery initiatives. In Sussex there are ten such squares in and around the Adur valley. Five of these were surveyed in 2018 and the other five will be surveyed in 2019. We will be sharing data between the two surveys and, by covering a sample of squares over the whole county, the SOS survey will complement the RSPB work.

Please get in touch now if you are happy to help with the survey next year.

Contact: Ken Smith (