The Birds in your Garden

It’s a while since I last wrote about the British Trust for Ornithology’s major Cuckoo tracking project, so I thought that an update might be of interest.

Cuckoo wearing it's satellite tag - BTO

Cuckoo wearing it’s satellite tag – BTO

The project was initiated in 2011 to find out why we had lost around two thirds of our Cuckoos in the UK. The BTO has been fitting them with satellite trackers and have discovered much, including pinpointing for the first time their wintering grounds in the western Congo rainforest and discovering that they use two routes, one via Italy and one via Spain, to get there.

This is the first time birds have been recorded taking two distinct routes to the same destination – usually route divergence leads to different wintering grounds. Interestingly, all of the birds return to the UK via the western route, regardless of the route used the previous autumn.

The study has revealed that the route a Cuckoo takes to the Congo can mean the difference between life and death. BTO scientists compared the mortality rates associated with the two and found that birds travelling via Italy had a far higher survival rate than those travelling via Spain.

They also found that all the birds tagged in Scotland and Wales, where the species is not doing as badly, took the more successful eastern route via Italy. Whereas in England, where we have lost 71% of our breeding Cuckoos during the last 25 years, local populations were made up of a mix of birds using the two routes. Significantly, the proportion of birds using the less successful route via Spain correlated strongly with population decline in each location studied.

Cuckoos fuel up for their long flights by storing fat, which those feeding in Spain might be finding harder to do than those in Italy. This could be a result of climate change, for example the recent late summer droughts in Spain, reducing the abundance of the high-energy invertebrates that the Cuckoos need to fuel a desert crossing. The study also suggests that birds going via Spain may fatten-up more in the UK before they begin their migration than birds flying via Italy. This would leave them especially vulnerable to the recent severe decline in moths in the south of England, their caterpillars being the Cuckoos’ main food source.

Eight new birds have joined join the four surviving individuals tagged in previous years, and BTO scientists will be watching all of them as they migrate to Africa and back over the next few months.

They will be concentrating on how the birds interact with a weather system called the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) as they prepare to make their way back next spring. The drought-busting rains that this system brings to West Africa in early March may be vital to the success of onward migration from countries such as Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

As an interesting sideline, in May this year, hundreds of Chinese schoolchildren took part in a competition to choose the name of a pioneering Cuckoo that would help uncover the migrations of Cuckoos from the Beijing area. Flappy McFlapperson was the winning name!

Flappy left Beijing in June and headed north into Mongolia, crossing the Gobi desert to spend the ‘summer months’ in the Onon-Balj National Park, the birth place of Genghis Khan and very close to the Russian border, moving on in autumn migration mode: destination unknown – possibly Southeast Asia, India or even Africa. All being well, during the next few months Flappy’s wintering location, will be unveiled for the very first time.
Mike Gray

Silver-Gilt Award!

First the spring judging, then the summer judging and finally the Yorkshire in Bloom award ceremony. All five of Brighter Boroughbridge voluntary group committee were there, anxiously awaiting the results in their class, large village.

14It was a beautiful day, fabulous weather for gardening, but everything took place inside the Knavesmire Stand at York Racecourse. During the welcome coffee there was time to look at stands, groups showing photographs of their work, an ideal opportunity to chat to like-minded people and to stimulate ideas.
The results were announced before, and after, a delicious chicken dinner and we were in the first section. Up on the screen flashed the words, Boroughbridge, Spring Judging silver award, summer judging silver-gilt. Hazel went up to collect the certificates amid tumultuous applause, from her table.
It was a wonderful moment, a reward for all the effort and anxiety that has accompanied their first Yorkshire in Bloom. Colleen Crumpton, Hazel Goss, John Goss, Sharon Longcroft, and Susan Jagger were thrilled, enjoyed their dinner, toasted themselves with wine and felt a deep sense of satisfaction for a job well done.  Come and join us

The Book of Darkness & Light

13For one night only, Friday, October 21 in Boroughbridge Library at 7.30pm. The Book of Darkness & Light is a new storytelling experience from writer Adam Z. Robinson and musician Ben Styles. Using a combination of chilling tales and live violin music, the performances are spooky, mesmerising and charming. With the ancient book in hand, The Storyteller weaves three ghostly tales as The Musician fills the room with a beautiful, haunting score.  Be thrilled, chilled and thoroughly entertained by this charming storytelling experience. But, be warned, once the pages of the book are opened … anything could happen!

The performances are suitable for ages 14+ and tickets are available from or by contacting the individual libraries. Entry to the venue and performance is free with your Eventbrite ticket. At the end of the performance, pay what you think the performance was worth by putting money in the pot, guide price £8. The Book of Darkness & Light, writer Adam Z. Robinson will also be hosting a creative writing workshop on the subject of ghost stories at Harrogate Library. The workshop will be fun, engaging and productive, aimed at experts and beginners alike. This event is FREE and limited to 20 people, ages 14+; places can be booked on Eventbrite.

FORA Military Weekend

The Romans and the rains came to the Friends of Roman Aldborough Military Weekend!

11As you can see, the weather did not deter Legio VI Victrix or our guests – the Mayor of Harrogate, Nick Brown, the Mayor and Mayoress of Boroughbridge, Peter and Pauline Phillips and Andrew Jones, the local MP.

12Unfortunately, rain prevented the Roman bread making demonstration – by a Polish Roman soldier!  There was also concern about the chain mail which got very wet during the day.  None of it was protected in the traditional Roman way – and was much less odorous!  Some re-enactors store their chain mail in a strong bag with plastic scourers or loose sand to remove rust.

The Birds in Your Garden


Jill Packenham

I’m sure most of you have noticed more Wrens in your garden this year than for quite a while, perhaps not an unexpected result of several winters without long frosty spells. To confirm this observation, some new BTO research has revealed that Wrens vary in their resilience to winter weather, depending on where in Britain they live. Maybe not too surprisingly they have found that Scottish Wrens are larger than those living in southern Britain, and as a result are more able to survive hard winter frosts.

Perhaps the most extreme UK example is the St Kilda Wren, which is a sub-species of our inland Wren and has only been found on Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray islands which lie some 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. It is both larger and has a more heavily barred appearance than its mainland cousin.

Altogether there are only a few hundred pairs, making it a great rarity and specimens of the adult birds and their eggs used to be highly prized. The St Kildans themselves even used to gather eggs to sell to collectors. Nowadays they are, of course, fully protected.

Wrens are amongst the UK’s smallest songbirds, and their populations can decline following periods of cold winter weather, due both to the cold itself and to difficulties in finding sufficient insect prey. This new research, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia, shows that Wrens living in regions where winters are more severe have adapted to improve their chances of surviving.

The study used information collected by volunteers participating in the Breeding Bird Survey to show how susceptible Wren populations were to severe winter weather; measured in terms of the number of days with a ground frost. Northern populations were found to be able to cope with winters having up to 70% more frosty days than their southern cousins, showing quite a degree of local adaptation. The results demonstrate how closely adapted Wren populations are to their local climate.

Using information collected by bird ringers, the study also found that Wren body mass was approximately 5% higher in the coldest (eastern Scotland) region than in the warmest (south-western) region. Larger individuals are likely to be favoured in colder parts due to the thermal advantage of larger size and their ability to store more body fat, something that has also been observed in other species of both birds and animals.

The findings of this study add to our understanding of how birds and other species respond to climate change. The work done shows that Wren populations should be able adapt to at least some change in average temperature, and indeed, being short-lived birds they can probably adapt more rapidly than most other species. Ultimately, the ability of any species to cope with climate change will depend upon whether the future rate of warming exceeds their ability to adapt.

Yet again we see that nature can adapt, it always has, but the worry is that the rate of change predicted is so rapid that many, especially longer lived species, simply will not be able to adapt fast enough.

If you find the lives of our garden birds to be of interest, and would like to join in and count the feathered occupants of your garden, please contact me or visit the BTO Garden BirdWatch website (
Mike Gray (


Jill Packenham

Secret Gardens Event – a Great Success

Were you there?  – 280 people were – 21 gardens were open!

sg1Sunday the 14th of August dawned cloudy but warm. It was mercifully windless as all the gazebos were erected in Hall Square for our Secret Garden event. By the time the first people came the tombola tables were laden, the boiler was bubbling on the drink and cake stall and there was a plethora of plants for sale.
By the end of the day nearly 280 people had visited some or all of the 21 gardens and the comments were gratifying. ‘Everyone was so friendly’ and ‘The gardens were so contrasting’ and ‘We had no idea such lovely gardens existed.’ The gardening group at Boroughbridge High School gave time during their summer holiday to open their vegetable garden and to sell their produce. I saw people with rhubarb sticking out of their bags and others delighted to have bought fresh home-grown vegetables.
Brighter Boroughbridge could not have run this event without the help of Boroughbridge Live. They organised so much of it and ensured helpers on the day.
Both organisers would like to thank all the people that gave generously, tombola prizes, plants to sell and scrumptious homemade cakes.
John Goss and the team or ring 01423 323123

Honouring World War 1 Victoria Cross Recipients

On Saturday 1 October, at 11am there will be a service to mark the unveiling of a paving stone for the 100th anniversary of the award of the Victoria Cross to Archie White who was born in Boroughbridge. It is part of a government campaign to honour all First World War VC recipients.

The ceremony will be held at the War Memorial, Hall Square, Boroughbridge YO51 9AN and will be attended by the Lord-Lieutenant, Barry Dodd, several regiments of the Armed Forces, schools, council members, family members, the vicar, Royal British Legion. For more details, please go to  or  see this leaflet on Archie White: The Boroughbridge VC Leaflet

Boroughbridge Short Mat Bowls Club

Boroughbridge Short Mat Bowls Club meets at Coronation Hall on Monday and Thursday evenings 7.15pm – 9.00pm; also, in the winter season, on Wednesday afternoons 2.00pk – 4.00pm The winter season starts on Monday 5th September and we are looking to recruit new members, whether young or not so young, experienced or otherwise, to join us for social bowling, and who knows, maybe play for one of our teams in a league.  Come and give it a try. If you are interested, please contact Barbara Pickles on 01423 324 869

Charity Healthy Coffee Morning

On Wednesday 14th September, there will be a Charity Healthy Coffee Morning held at Glebe Farm, Lower Dunsforth YO26 9RZ, from 9.00am until 12 noon. The event will be raising money for It takes seven for Skin Cancer Research. Treats, nails, holistic massage and much more. Please book in advance 07841 054967.

York Railway Institute Bands

Golden Rail Band - Burnby HallThe three bands of the York Railway Institute, York Railway Institute Band, Golden Rail Band and York RI Development Band, continue to flourish, but are always on the lookout for new players.

York RI Band performs at many prestigious venues such as York Minster, Selby Abbey and Leeds Minster. They also perform in joint ventures with organisations like the famous Prima Vocal Ensemble. One such joint venture occurred last October when the band joined forces with Prima Vocal at York University Central Hall to perform the Karl Jenkins masterpiece “The Armed Man”. York RI Band also perform at a number of Summer engagements in beautiful settings such as Wetherby Bandstand, Howden Minster and the Southport Flower Show.

York RI Development BandThe Golden Rail Band undertake many varied engagements playing in and around the York area and further afield, at venues such as Knaresborough Castle, Boroughbridge Show, Goole Bandstand and Brodsworth Hall. The Development Band also plays at a number of local events.

York RI Band were promoted to Championship Status at the start of 2015 and are now in the same league as the very best bands in the world, such as Black Dyke Band, Brighouse & Rastrick Band, Foden’s Band and Cory Band.  To maintain the standard for the York RI Band to compete at this level requires players of a high quality, who are totally dedicated and committed to the band.

One of the York RI Band players, Ian Scott on Bass Trombone, returned to playing only 2 years ago, following a 22 year retirement. He is now enjoying his playing as much as ever, helping to prove that it’s never too late to return to playing. Anyone thinking of a return to playing might be surprised at how quickly it is possible to return to good standard.

The Golden Rail and Development Bands would also like to recruit new talent. This could be for absolute beginners or again, for returning lapsed players. All three bands provide an instrument and uniform, with free tuition in the Development Band. York RI Band rehearses twice weekly on Monday and Thursday evenings between 8:00 and 10:00. Golden Rail Band rehearses twice weekly on Tuesday evening between 7:00 and 9:00 and on Thursday evening between 6:30 and 8:00. The Development Band rehearse on Wednesday evenings between 6:00 and 6:20 for beginners, 6:20 and 6:40 for level 2 players, 6:40 and 7:00 for level 3 players and 7:00 and 8:15 for the full band.
For more information, please contact:-  Martyn Williams (York RI Band) 0191 227 3287, Les Johnson (Golden Rail Band) 01904 791199 or Pauline Johnson (Development Band) 01904 791199.