Dartford Warbler Research

Dartford Warbler Research

BSG Ecology is currently providing technical support to MSc students under the tuition of Dr Penny Neyland and Dr Laura Roberts of Swansea University for their ornithological dissertations.

Owain Gabb, of BSG Ecology’s Swansea office, initially approached the University with ideas about studying aspects of Dartford warbler ecology and distribution on the Gower Peninsula in 2013.  Following some discussion with academic staff, the topic was put to students on the 2014 MSc Environmental Biology: Conservation and Resource Management course as a potential research area.

Dartford warbler was first recorded breeding on the Gower Peninsula in the early 2000s, but has since become established and occurs sparsely in areas of coastal heath and more locally on the inland commons.  It is typically associated with stands of gorse, although the size, structure, maturity and aspect of occupied stands, and species composition within and around them, have not been studied.  Dartford warbler is of particular local interest, as there is currently no robust baseline with regard to breeding pairs on Gower, and the population is increasing in terms of both UK population and range.   Climatic change is widely held to be the main factor driving these increases (e.g. Huntley et al., 2007).  The lack of current data at the local level makes understanding population trends difficult.  Another potential research area is an assessment of whether coastal management practices (widespread burning and cutting of gorse – particularly on West Gower) is a factor affecting population size and the density of breeding pairs.

Owain’s role has been to help train the students in the identification of coastal birds (by sight and sound), to show them habitat in which Dartford warbler currently occurs (or has occurred in recent years), and to liaise with local birdwatchers to ensure that data is made available to them to inform their studies.  In exchange for his time, Owain will see some ornithological research completed in which he has a personal interest, and BSG Ecology will receive a summary of the studies.

Swansea University has been proactively taking part in the WISE Initiative, which promotes opportunities for business and universities to work together in a sustainable way.  For BSG, building relationships with universities makes sense from a number of perspectives.  Under the WISE initiative there is an opportunity to share resources (such as laboratory space and equipment) with university staff, and to draw on their specialist knowledge in ways that are relevant to our professional work.  However, working with the university also provides an opportunity to get to know the next generation of professional ecologists and to help them develop the technical skills needed to secure jobs in a highly competitive sector.   We currently employ five Swansea University graduates in our team.

Reference: Huntley, B., Green, R.E., Collingham, Y.C & Willis, S.G.  (2007).  A climatic atlas of breeding birds.  Lynx Edicions.

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