Guest column: Celebrating 25 years of sharing life with the birds of SK58

Andy Hirst is reflecting on 25 years of the SK58 Birders
Andy Hirst is reflecting on 25 years of the SK58 Birders

Twenty five years ago, a small group of birder watchers convened in a pub in Anston to discuss local birding matters.

Who would have thought that meeting would kick-start the formation of a unique birding group, with a very simple goal – to watch, record and survey the birds of a single 10 kilometre square between Sheffield, Rotherham and Worksop.

A quarter of a century on, the group is still going strong, with several of the founding members still present and active today.

From December 1992, a core group of local birders began to pool their resources, time and experience to build up and share information on local birds and bird-related issues for the benefit of all.

This ethos still holds true today.

As with many birding groups, our membership isn’t as strong as it once was.

Membership peaked at more than 70 in the early 2000s, whereas today it’s hovering around the 35 to 40 mark and we find it very difficult to recruit youngermembers.

Nonetheless, we still manage to generate around 8,000–14,000 records a year as well as undertaking our biennial Tetrad Atlas Survey.

This began in 1995, was repeated in 1996 and has taken place every two years since.

We were asked in 1998 whether this was ‘the best-watched site in the UK?, to which the answer is probably yes.

Throughout our 25 years of recording, we have witnessed the ornithological picture in SK58 change quite dramatically.

Among the breeding species that we’ve lost are turtle dove,hawfinch and corn bunting, while spotted flycatcher and willow tit are barely hanging on,as is the wintering northern lapwing.

On the other hand there have been gains as well with numbers of common buzzards, barn owls and hobbys rising and peregrine falcons have also been established.

How long before we see red kites breeding within the square? Not long, I suspect.

We’ve had our share of rarities over the years, just reward for all the hours spent in the field, including a black kite, American golden plover, buffbreasted sandpiper and a woodchat shrike.

The group has also been active in terms of conservation, taking the initiative in the development of post-industrial sites.

Colliery spoil heaps have become green areas, attractive to wildlife, but simply grassing them over was an unimaginative solution.

The Coal Board Regeneration Scheme developed a community woodland at Dinnington – North Anston Pit Top as it is was originally known – landscaping the site, shifting millions of tonnes of soil, creating a nature reserve and community open space.

The site has matured under the ownership of the Land Trust and is managed by several agencies.

With input from SK58 Birders, wader scrapes and a hide were included in the development plans.

So, what do the next 25 years hold?

I’m sure that the group will be in existence in some form or other in 2042.

Inevitably, the founding members will have to hand over the reins at some point before then, so it’s imperative that we actively recruit new, younger members.

It’s always interesting to speculate what future local birders will be recording.

Which species will have disappeared and what will we have gained?