The British public should follow the shooting community’s example and return bird rings to conservationists, according to the British Trust for ornithology (BTO).

The call comes after it emerged that there has been a drop in the rate of bird ring returns, making it increasingly difficult for the BTO to track the 800,000 birds that are ringed each year in Britain. The latest figures show that in the 1950s, the ringing scheme had an overall return rate of about four per cent, but that has now dropped to just one per cent.

The drastic fall has been blamed on people not spending as much time in the countryside or on remote beaches and being more squeamish than they were 50 years ago. “People are terrified of touching something that is dead. And now bird flu has made it even worse,” said Mark Grantham, a research ecologist in the BTO’s Ringing Unit.

“It is a huge problem. It means there is a lot more uncertainty about our figures, which makes it harder to sell our recommendations to politicians and decision-makers,” he added.

The BTO pointed out that the shooting community compares extremely favourably with the general public. Mark Grantham said, “The recovery rate of rings on quarry species is extremely high. For example, teal rings have a recovery rate of about eight per cent, nine per cent of woodcock rings are returned and an impressive 11 per cent of wigeon rings are returned.” He added, “So for many species, we are reliant on the return of rings from shooters to enable us to carry out analysis. An example of this was when fowlers helped the BTO to map wildfowl migration routes in relation to bird flu surveillance.”

The rest of this article appears in 22nd July issue of Shooting Times.

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