Francis C Franklin

Citizen science conservation project for red-listed species launches at WWT Washington Wetland Centre

Posted: 27th January, 2023

WWT Washington Wetland Centre is asking the public to be its ‘eyes and ears’ as it works to help protect the red-listed willow tit.

Citizen scientists are needed to help a Wearside wetland reserve save the UK’s fastest declining resident bird species - the red-listed willow tit, as part of an ongoing species recovery research project.

Numbers of these small passerines fell by 83% between 1995 and 2017*, with only 2,750 breeding pairs now thought to exist in Great Britain**.

In a bid to help tackle the decline, WWT Washington is urging would-be conservationists across the North East to get actively involved by reporting sightings of the elusive birds, as well as attending public ringing sessions.

All data gathered will help the reserve’s team manage the wetland and woodland habitat on-site to best establish and maintain a safe environment for willow tit to thrive.

Reserve manager John Gowland said: “The sharp decline in willow tit numbers is believed to be due to habitat loss, nest-hole competition from other birds - such as blue tit - and nest predation from great-spotted woodpecker.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to already have a small population of willow tit here on WWT Washington’s reserve, and we manage the woodlands and other habitats to encourage them to stay.

“At least three pairs of willow tit breed here too, and because of its threatened status and preference for ‘wet woodland habitat’, it is a priority species in the centre’s reserve management plan.

“As such, we’re very excited to be undertaking this new research project at what is a crucial time for the species.

“And the fact that we’re able to involve our visitors and the public so closely in the work we’re doing, as it happens, is a brilliant bonus.”

Data collection – how you can take part

For the team to learn more about the local willow tit population currently, a picture must be built about their movements and activity across both WWT Washington’s site and the surrounding area.

The public can inform this by sharing details including the date, time and location of any willow tit sightings, as well as the number of birds seen and what they were doing, e.g. feeding, flying, resting, preening.

“We're asking the public to be our eyes and ears around our centre, the reserve and also the surrounding area”, added John.

“We currently provide a variety of bespoke nesting habitat options for willow tits and other standard nest box options for other species, but don’t have any way of knowing if these boxes or the provision of other bird feeding areas is impacting on willow tit success.

“Data collected during the project will help us to design and test both current and new nest boxes, as well as other nest opportunities and feeding techniques.

“If you spot a willow tit while on our site or in the neighbouring area, please complete a form at the centre – available at reception and Hawthorn Wood Hide – and report it to the team during your visit.

“Alternatively, please let us know directly by emailing the details to [email protected] or contacting us via social media @wwtwashington"


*The Willow tit Poecile montanus is the UK’s fastest declining resident bird species and one of only 32 endemic avian subspecies to the British Isles (Lewis et al 2009; Parkin & Knox 2010).

**RSPB cites 2,750 breeding pairs in the UK


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