Wetland Bird Survey

An Ongoing Annual Survey

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is the scheme which monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the UK. The principal aims of WeBS are to identify population sizes, determine trends in numbers and distribution and identify important sites for waterbirds.

This survey takes place every year and, if you are not very experienced and want to start off with a straightforward survey, then the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) may be for you. You only have to be able to identify waterbirds (gulls and terns being optional) and sites vary from village ponds to canals to large reservoirs (and outside Surrey the coast).

You do not need to belong to the BTO in order to participate in this survey.

The Time of Year for the survey

The survey only has to be carried out between September and March although, if you can cover the site from April to August, that is even better.

What the survey involves

You go to the site and count all the adult (and young that are ¾ grown) waterbirds that you see. Counting Gulls and Terns is optional. You also record how much ice is present (if any), visibility and disturbance. Here is a link to the paper form you can complete for the WeBS survey count which shows the information you need to collect. The on-screen form is very similar (see below).

Kingfisher, Sarah Kelman / BTO

When do you do it?

On a set Sunday each month although, if you cannot carry out the survey on that day, you are asked to do it on the closest day possible).  Here are the dates for 2024:

  • 14th January 2024
  • 11th February 2024
  • 10th March 2024
  • 7th April 2024
  • 12th May 2024
  • 9th June 2024
  • 21st July 2024
  • 18th August 2024
  • 22nd September 2024
  • 20th October 2024
  • 17th November 2024
  • 15th December 2024

At inland sites (i.e. Surrey) morning is normally best, when many species are most active.

More information on why this survey is being run

The network of sites legally protected for their importance to wintering waterbirds depends fundamentally on the WeBS counts. “Waterbirds” includes wildfowl (ducks, geese and swans), waders, rails, divers, grebes, cormorants and herons. Gulls and terns are optionally included. In a typical year over 220 waterbird species, races or populations are counted in WeBS, including non-native, feral and vagrant species. National trends are produced for the most numerous 110 of these.

WeBS is a partnership between the BTO, the RSPB and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in association with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).

What skills are required?

Anyone can take part, even near beginners to birdwatching. Unlike many bird surveys, to carry out WeBS Counts, you do not have to know bird songs or calls, you just have the ability to identify common waterbirds.

You can complete paper forms but you can also enter results online.

Where are the survey sites in Surrey?

For this particular survey, for historical reasons, the area is not the BTO Surrey region but instead Surrey and SW London (being the old County of Surrey).  Accordingly there are tidal areas of the Thames included in the area as well as some of the large London reservoirs as well as smaller lakes in the south of the County.  See this list of all the sites in Surrey and SW London. This list includes all those that are allocated and those that are vacant and need covering. Alternatively this map shows all Surrey sites and which are vacant (click on the site to see its status). Can you help with one of these sites?

Remember even counts from small water bodies are important even if the site only seems to support the more common birds such as Mallard, Moorhen and Coot.

How do I get involved?

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