The Birds of Shropshire

Published on 08 July 2020 in Book reviews

Edited by Leo Smith, on behalf of Shropshire Ornithological Society (SOS)

Liverpool University Press, 2019

Hbk, 532pp; numerous coloured maps, photographs and tables

ISBN 978-1-78138-259-2; £44.99

This combined county avifauna and atlas follows the large format adopted with the publication of The Birds of Sussex in 2014 (reviewed in Brit. Birds 107: 300–301). In contrast to birdwatchers in Sussex, for whom the 2014 volume was the seventh in a series of county avifaunas dating back to 1891, birdwatchers in Shropshire have been less well served. In the nineteenth century, W. E. Beckwith wrote the Birds of Shropshire, which was published in two parts in 1879 and 1881, and followed this with his unfinished Notes on Shropshire Birds in 1887–93. Further information on bird populations and distribution was included in H. E. Forrest’s The Fauna of Shropshire, published in 1899. There then followed a long gap until the Shropshire Ornithological Society (SOS) published A Handlist of Birds of Shropshire in 1964 and later An Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Shropshire in 1992. So this volume, which in essence is the first modern comprehensive avifauna for the county, is long overdue.

Leo Smith, the lead author, was supported by the SOS Avifauna Working Party of six additional members, all of whom made major contributions to the book. Short biographies of all seven members are included. The book draws heavily on the results of national surveys, mostly organised by the BTO, as well as local recording. An impressive 650 observers contributed to the BTO 2007–11 Atlas project, and their names are listed in full.

The first chapter, entitled ‘History of Bird Recording and Ornithology in Shropshire’, comprises three parts: the first covers the period up to 1950, the second the modern era and the third chronicles the dates of the first record of every species which has occurred in the county. The first part traces the history of collecting and taxidermy, and the second the establishment of a modern organisation, the SOS, which formalised data collection, organised surveys and took on a conservation role. The SOS now owns three reserves and also advises on the management of others. This is followed by ‘Changes in Migrant Arrival Dates’, which presents a fascinating analysis of trends since 1900; as would be expected, it shows the increasingly earlier arrivals of most summer visitors.

A chapter on ‘Shropshire and its Bird Habitats’, running to 38 pages, follows. In a well-written, easily accessible style it describes the county’s geology, relief, climate, land use and bird habitats and then discusses the impacts of agricultural change, urbanisation and increased recreational activity and climate change. The chapter concludes with accounts of important bird sites in the county and an illuminating section on the protection of birds of prey. It is well illustrated with several clear maps and a wonderful selection of habitat photographs, which are clearly captioned with location, photographer and date.

The bulk of the book (comprising 420 pages) is taken up with the species accounts, which have been compiled by 27 authors. The accounts have been edited by Leo Smith, who has done a magnificent job bringing them into a consistent style, such that you wouldn’t realise that so many contributors were involved! For just over half the species (96 residents, 29 summer visitors and 27 winter visitors) the main focus is the results of the BTO 2007–11 Atlas project. Maps appropriate to each species have been selected from breeding relative abundance (for the commoner species), breeding distribution, breeding change (in comparison with the 1985–90 breeding atlas), winter distribution and relative abundance (rarely). A table of results from the two breeding atlases shows gains and losses at the confirmed, probable and possible breeding levels. BBS trends for 1997–2014 are also included. Possible reasons for changes are discussed in detail. Winter visitors have additional information such as a summary of WeBS counts at the main sites (1960–2014) and histograms of annual maximum flock size or annual totals. The occurrences of passage migrants are analysed over ten-day periods through the year. Accounts of rarities with fewer than ten records include a full listing, while those with ten or more records are summarised. Most accounts are complemented by one or more excellent photographs taken within the county by 21 local photographers. Images of commoner species as well as individual rarities are fully captioned with photographer, location and date.

The book concludes with short chapters summarising the changes in status of breeding species and a future action plan, and six appendices including a detailed comparison of the results of the two atlases, references, acknowledgments and a tabulation of the Shropshire List, which includes estimated breeding and winter populations for the county.

This book is an extremely attractive publication, which has been produced with a wonderful eye for detail, precision and accuracy. It will be immensely valuable to all naturalists, planners and developers as a baseline against which future changes can be measured. It is also an essential purchase for all birders in the county and for others with an interest in county-based ornithology.

John Clark