Waterways Breeding Birds Survey

Important Notice re COVID-19

Following the change in government guidance for England, which came into force on 13th May 2020, you may now leave your home to take part in the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey.

Before conducting a survey please read the latest BTO guidance here. Remember that the health of our volunteers is very important to us, as are our relationships with the landowners who so generously allow us onto their land. No volunteer should feel under pressure to carry out fieldwork if they do not feel comfortable doing so, or if they are concerned about the impacts of carrying out survey work on relations with landowners or other members of the public.


An Ongoing Annual Survey

At present no surveyors are needed for the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey (WBBS) as all sites are covered.

Rivers and canals are great places for birds and birdwatchers, creating wildlife corridors that strike into the heart of our cities and stretch from moorland to estuary. The Waterways Breeding Bird Survey (WBBS) provides both a great excuse for an early morning walk and an effective way to monitor the health of the species that live in wet habitats.

WBBS is an annual survey of breeding birds along rivers and canals. It is a transect survey with many similarities to the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) put in link to the other page. Volunteers walk along a river or canal bank. The distance can be from 500 metres to 5 km (the maximum distance) recording all birds seen and heard.

You do not have to be a member of the BTO in order to participate.

Canada geese, by Edmund Fellowes / BTO

The Time of Year for the survey

1st April to 30th June

What the survey involves

Make three visits to a stretch of river or canal. The first visit being to record habitat (although if the site has been surveyed in the past the route will already be set up and a map of the route provided).  On the second and third visits you walk along the route and record birds seen or heard whilst walking.  The birds are recorded in distance bands either side of the route.  These distance bands are 0-25 metres, 25 to 100 metres and over 100 metres.  In addition any birds flying over are recorded.  You can also record mammals seen during the survey.

When do you do it?

The first visit to check habitat and route can be before 1st April at any time of day.  The second visit is between 1st April and 15th May.  The third visit (at least four weeks after the second visit) is between 16th May and 30th June.  The second and third visits should be early in the morning.

More information on why this survey is being run

WBBS results supplement BBS with additional data on the birds and mammals of waterside habitats. WBBS results are a major component of the annual Bird Trends report. The scheme covers all bird species but is especially valuable for monitoring the population trends of specialist birds of linear waters, such as Kingfisher.

The link to the BTO website, where there is more information about this survey, is here.

What skills are required?

You need to be able to identify British breeding birds of bird by sight and sound (both song and call) so this is a survey for experienced birdwatchers.  Knowing birds by sound is especially important because, during the third visit, the presence of many species will only be ascertained by hearing a song or call.

If you are not sure if you have the necessary skills why not come along to a BBS Practice Course to learn more about what is involved in BBS & WBBS and have a practice session.  Here are details of the next event.

You can complete paper forms and send them in to the BTO but the majority of surveyors enter results online.

Where are the survey sites in Surrey?

Here is a list of all the sites in Surrey (currently all covered).

How do I get involved?

If you are interested in helping with the survey or would like more information please contact the Regional Organiser (RO) for this survey.  The RO is Penny Williams email penny@btosurrey.co.uk