Rare Birds Breeding Panel guidelines

Guidance on the reporting of Rare Breeding Birds to Bird News
Information Services
In order to minimise the impact of disturbance on rare breeding birds, while still encouraging the
proper reporting of these species, the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, in consultation with RSPB
Investigations, has compiled some guidelines on how records of these species should be handled
during the breeding season.
Most of the species considered by the UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel are, by their nature, not
numerous in the UK. In addition, many species of bird, whether rare, scarce or common, are
vulnerable to interference and disturbance when breeding; however, the impact of disturbance on
the conservation status of the less numerous species is greater. Deliberate interference can occur
from egg-collectors or by those intent on their persecution. Incidental disturbance can also occur
from birdwatchers and bird photographers.
Rare breeding birds inevitably attract attention and interest from a wide range of people, who
mostly wish them well. Certainly, most birdwatchers would like to be able to watch rare breeders,
since by their nature they are not encountered often and are usually very interesting in their
breeding habitat, but most people realise that approaching them is likely to cause harm and don’t
do so. Some individuals however wish to harm our rare breeders. This might be because they want
to kill them (usually raptors on land used for shooting) or because they want to take their eggs or
young for personal satisfaction or gain. Other people may not wish to harm them but could do so
by behaving irresponsibly. This would include people trying to take photographs of breeding birds
from close up, or to photograph nests.
All species of bird are fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) but
some species are assigned special protection when at the nest – these species are included in
Schedule 1 of the Act. It is an offence to intentionally disturb these birds whilst they are building a
nest, or in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young; or to disturb dependent young even if not
in the nest. It is also an offence to recklessly disturb these species, through for instance trying to
get a better view by going too close to the birds, leading to the potential for accidental
disturbance. Most Schedule 1 species are included in the RBBP List, but there are additional
species not on Schedule 1 which are now monitored by RBBP by virtue of their UK breeding
population being fewer than 2000 breeding pairs. Some of these species, such as Common Crane
and Little Egret, only began nesting in the UK since 1981.
The Rare Breeding Birds Panel therefore advocates special caution with regards to making breeding
records of all RBBP-listed species public, particularly in the period March to mid-August. Although
we encourage sensible monitoring of the breeding attempt, in order to provide information for
county recorders and RBBP, observers must always prioritise the interests of the individual birds
and the conservation of the species, and avoid disturbing the birds and their nest. A licence for
nest monitoring of species on Schedule 1 can be applied for; these are supplied by Natural
England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Northern Ireland Environment
Agency (for disturbance of species nesting in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland,
respectively). Bird ringers and nest recorders can apply for licences from the BTO

Details of obtaining a Schedule 1 licence, and the list of species on Schedule 1, are accessible here:
http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/taking-part/protected-birds. The list of species
covered by RBBP is available here: http://www.rbbp.org.uk/rbbp-species-list-full.htm.
It is of course possible to carefully monitoring the activity of a breeding pair from a safe distance
without the need to visit the nest and we would encourage this where conditions permit and there
is no disturbance to the birds – an example would be observation from a distance or from a
permanent hide using telescope and/or binoculars.
RSPB and RBBP both believe that the following species are especially vulnerable and we suggest
that no records of these species in circumstances suggestive of breeding or potential breeding are
publicised during the breeding season unless public viewing has been arranged:


Black-throated Diver

Temminck’s Stint

Little Bittern

Purple Sandpiper

Cattle Egret

Green Sandpiper

Great White Egret

Wood Sandpiper

Purple Heron

Red-necked Phalarope

Eurasian Spoonbill

Snowy Owl

Red-necked Grebe

Long-eared Owl

Slavonian Grebe


Black-necked Grebe



Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

White-tailed Eagle

Golden Oriole

Montagu’s Harrier

Red-backed Shrike


Penduline Tit

Baillon’s Crake

Savi’s Warbler

Common Crane

Marsh Warbler

Black-winged Stilt

By publicity, we mean reporting to Bird News Information Services (national schemes but also local
networks) and notifying others via social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Sightings should be
submitted, in confidence, to county bird recorders. They can be contacted directly or records
submitted to them via BirdTrack (www.birdtrack.net): this software has measures in place,
developed with RBBP, to restrict disclosure of such records to the public via websites or other
media. Records submitted in these ways will reach the Secretary of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel
so that they can be added to the Panel’s secure archives and included in their annual reports,
aiding the long-term conservation of these species.
Mark Holling (Rare Breeding Birds Panel) and Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations), May 2016

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