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Lottery Fund Backs Bird Facts

News from the BTO
15th June 1996

The extensive and unique archive of bird surveys, built up by the British Trust for Ornithology, are to be computer stored thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The documents cover all sorts of national surveys that the Trust has undertaken. Most are only available to researchers who have come to Norfolk to thumb through the original paper records. The BTO needs to raise further matching funds to complete this vital project which will cost over a quarter of a million pounds - $US 400,000.

This project will allow the massive amounts of data to be stored efficiently on CD-ROM and security copies to be made of it. The surveys involved include bird ringing records that go back to 1909 - more than 25,000,000 birds have been ringed in this country. These records are stored in box upon box of cards and in racks of about 2,000 lever arch files. These records alone cover about 500,000 square feet and would completely paper Wembley Stadium! Many of the Nest Record Cards documenting a million nesting attempts of wild birds in Britain have no secure computer copy - yet!

In addition the Trust has run dozens of individual investigations into individual species. Some have documented the decline of species - like the Red-backed Shrike which is now extinct in Britain. Others, like the series of Peregrine enquiries, have logged triumphs for conservation as the species has recovered its numbers following the effects of toxic chemicals on this magnificent falcon.

The extensive files are currently stored in the 12th century church, dedicated to St. George, in which the original Benedictine nuns worshipped. They occupied the site from about 1180 to 1538 but it now houses the national headquarters of the British Trust for Ornithology. The Trust's 10,000 members are mostly skilled and active amateur birdwatchers who continue to undertake investigations of this sort. For many years these investigations have been computerised as matter of course. This award will enable the historic data to be fully safeguarded.

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