Tern for the better

New research has shown that the growth of the Roseate Tern population on Coquet Island in Northumberland, the species’ only regular and reliable nesting site in the UK, has been supported for more than 20 years by birds moving from Rockabill in Ireland.


The summer of 2018 saw record numbers of nesting Roseate Terns on Coquet Island, with more than half of the birds nesting there now home-grown. It’s now hoped the growing colony, and another thriving population at Lady’s Island Lake, Ireland, will also start to ‘export’ birds to found new colonies.

The authors of a paper just published in the Journal of Animal Ecology found that Ireland’s Rockabill colony, where 1,633 pairs of Roseate Terns nested this year, is the only site in the UK and Ireland currently ‘exporting’ terns to other colonies.

‘Cryptic sink’

The research, co-funded by the EU LIFE Programme, RSPB and Natural England, shows that for more than 20 years the growth of the Roseate Tern colony on Coquet Island was sustained by birds from the Rockabill colony. This meant Coquet was, between 1992 and 2016, a ‘cryptic sink’, attracting more young birds to nest there than have fledged from it and survived to breed at the species’ other colonies.

Co-author Dr Mark Bolton, from the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science, said: “Our research highlights the complex decisions conservationists face when deciding how to improve the fortunes of seabirds like Roseate Terns.

“Despite the reliance of the Coquet Island colony on immigration from Rockabill, this nature reserve has played an important role in maintaining the species in the UK, thanks to management by the RSPB, including building nest boxes and protecting the colony.

“Having an additional nesting colony, the UK and Irish population as a whole is better protected against catastrophes like severe weather events, disturbance or disease, that might hit any one colony.”

It’s hoped that the successful colony on Coquet will eventually contribute to Roseate Terns settling at new sites, or re-colonising some of their old haunts. Since the research was carried out, it appears that the Coquet Island Roseate Terns are now beginning to sustain their own numbers. In 2016, 50% of terns nesting on the island had been hatched there, but this year, the number had climbed to 60%. This summer, 118 pairs nested there, in the most successful UK breeding season in 40 years.

The RSPB’s Daniel Piec, who manages the EU Roseate Tern LIFE project, says: “With birds moving between colonies across borders, international co-operation is vital to their conservation. We’re working across Britain, Ireland and France with BirdWatch Ireland, National Parks and Wildlife Service, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Bretagne Vivante and other partners which means we are learning a great deal about what the terns need, and the areas they use.”

This shared knowledge will mean conservationists are better able to identify suitable sites to attract them to nest.

Co-author Dr Richard Caldow from Natural England says: “We now know that where coastal colonies of other tern species, such as Common Terns, are doing well and feeding predominantly in the marine environment, there is probably enough food and safe nesting areas for Roseate Terns to thrive there, too.

“The next step is to look for such potential nesting sites and consider ‘Coquet-style’ management to give Roseate Terns a helping hand to colonise them.”

Rutland Water Osprey tagging


Two Rutland Water Ospreys have been fitted with satellite transmitters so bird experts can track their amazing global journeys.

They’re now waiting to see whether the young males can fly to West Africa more quickly than a female bird, which previously did it in 11 days!

The male high flyers were fitted with mini gps trackers to help the internationally important Rutland Osprey Project track their movements throughout the year. Already in 9 days one bird has flown as far as the Western Sahara. The data is providing valuable information on their movements locally too. 

Lloyd Park from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust said: “The transmitters provide highly accurate data that allows us to plot the birds’ exact movements both day and night. This is giving us an incredible insight into a range of different behaviours, including where and when they are fishing.”

The two male birds were tagged under the guidance of world-renowned osprey expert, Roy Dennis, and colleague Dr Tim Mackrill, from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. They’re working with Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust’s Osprey Project, to shed new light on the annual marathon migration flights the birds make; flying to the west coast of Africa to over winter, and returning to Rutland each spring to nest and raise chicks.

The epic 3000-mile journey sees young birds, which fly independently from their parents, battle strong winds that can carry them off track; only 30% or so survive that first migration flight. They usually fly 200-300 miles a day.

The GPS units weigh only 30g; they work on solar power and allow location, altitude and speed to be recorded. The units are fitted to the birds like a small rucksack, allowing them to continue their normal activities.

Tim Mackrill said: “We’re very excited that we’ll be able to follow the birds to their wintering grounds. As adult Ospreys they will already have established wintering sites, so it will be fascinating to find out exactly where they go. Some European Ospreys winter in Spain or Portugal, but most fly 3,000 miles to the west coast of Africa, into countries such as Senegal and the Gambia. A third Rutland Osprey, known as 30(05), has been tracked since 2013 and migrates to the coast of Senegal each winter. In the past she has completed the 3,000 mile journey in as little as 11 days, so it will be interesting to see how the two young males compare.”

Members of the Rutland Osprey Project will be joining the Osprey Leadership Foundation in January (2019) for a trip to Senegal and the Gambia in hope of finding not just the tagged birds, but also other Rutland ospreys overwintering there. 

Anya Wicikowski Osprey Project Officer said, “Aside from the scientific and conservation value of the tagging, the data provides an incredible educational resource and helps us to link young people along the osprey migration flyway. These latest tagged birds will form a key part of that work.” 

Follow the Osprey’s migration on the Rutland Osprey Project tracking page and map; the two male ospreys are 'S1' (yellow route) and '4K' (pink route). Female '30' (previously tagged, green route).

Corncrake boost!


Plans for a project aimed at saving one of Scotland’s rarest birds have taken a positive step forward thanks to an award of £30,300 from The National Lottery. In recent years corncrake numbers in Scotland have fallen to worryingly low levels; the funding will allow RSPB Scotland to develop the project further over the next year ahead of applying for a full Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £370,000. This would fund a four year project beginning in January 2020.

Corncrakes are summer migrants to Scotland and spend the winter months in Africa. They are shy chestnut coloured land dwelling birds and related to moorhens and coots. In Great Britain they are only found on a number of Scottish islands and a few isolated areas on the North West coast mostly found on farmed land and in crofting areas. Last year’s population survey, measured by the number of calling males, revealed that only 866 had been recorded, a drop of 33 per cent since 2014 and the lowest number since 2003.

Pic:  Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Pic: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

The birds were once widespread across the UK but increased agricultural mechanisation from the mid-19th century onwards led to a vast reduction in their range and numbers. By the late 1980s they were confined to a few places in Scotland with the likelihood that within the next 20 years they would be lost as a British breeding species if action wasn’t taken. An incredibly successful joint effort between conservationists, scientists, government, farmers, crofters and land managers and with the backing of EU funding led to a steady overall increase from 480 in 1993 to a high of 1,289 in 2014 before the recent concerning declines.

The project in development called SCALE – Saving Corncrakes through Advocacy, Land management and Education will focus on these three key areas to help ensure the long term future of corncrakes here through a number of activities if the full grant funding is successful.  These include working with farmers and crofters across Orkney, Durness, Skye, Outer Hebrides, Argyll and Inner Hebrides to deliver corncrake friendly practices. There will be practical and financial support for measures such as delayed mowing dates to help chick survival and the creation of dense vegetation areas to give corncrakes the cover they need.

Given their secretive nature corncrakes can be rather elusive and difficult to see. RSPB Scotland would work with local communities in these places, providing dusk time safaris to hear their distinctive call, and developing an education programme for schools to inspire children about the birds.

RSPB Scotland would also make the case that long term funding is needed at a national level to secure corncrakes’ Scottish future. This will include developing new appropriate agri-environment schemes for corncrakes in any post-Brexit agricultural policy design.

Kenna Chisholm, Regional Conservation Manager, RSPB Scotland said: “We’re delighted that SCALE has been awarded this crucial Stage 1 funding from HLF and very grateful that we can now progress our plans further in the hope that we’ll gain full funding next year. It’s no overestimation to say that the long term survival of corncrakes in Scotland is resting with this project. Even at the population high four years ago corncrakes remained an incredibly vulnerable species here in Scotland, as demonstrated by the fall in numbers since then. We’re now facing a similar situation to that of the early 1990s where if action is not taken soon the rasping crex crex call of the corncrake may become a thing of the past here.”

Mr A MacLean, a crofter from North Uist said: “I am delighted that RSPB Scotland have secured the funding to develop this application. It shows a commitment to corncrakes and crofting during a time of uncertainty for both.” 

Sally Thomas, SNH Director of People and Nature, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to help increase the corncrakepopulation in Scotland, and we’re looking forward to helping support the project. These distinctive birds look for habitats with taller plant life of at least 20cm, cutting grass and plants before it reaches that height can destroy their habitat; it’s great to see RSPB Scotland will be prioritising working with local communities to raise awareness of corncrake-friendly land management practices.”

Dealer the swan comes home...

Great news come in from the WWT!

What a pair! Missing mate of oldest living Gloucestershire swan dynasty arrives from Russian Arctic – six weeks late!

The power couple were reunited when Dealer, 25, joined her 26-year-old partner Croupier on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s (WWT) iconic Swan Lake on Monday (Jan 22).

Croupier, Slimbridge’s very own ‘cobfather’, is the leader of ‘The Gambling Dynasty’, one of the biggest Bewick’s swan families ever studied at the reserve. They were christened by researchers who group major family lines by themed names to make them easier to remember.

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It looked like Croupier’s ‘chips were down’ when he arrived without his mate last month.

But Dealer, his partner of 19 years and mum to 29 cygnets that they have brought back together over the years, completed her journey against the odds.

WWT’s senior ecosystem health officer Julia Newth said: “We are so happy to see this faithful pair reunite! Bewick’s swans risk starvation, illegal shooting, lead poisoning, wind turbines and power lines to survive the gruelling 4500km migration and sadly not all of them make it. So when Croupier arrived alone, we feared it was end of an era for this famous couple.

“Few families have demonstrated these birds’ characteristic loyalty to each other and the sites they visit as well as The Gamblers. We hope to see them continue to winter at Slimbridge for many years to come.”

Families tend to be the dominant groups on Swan Lake and Croupier is from one of the oldest dynasties, which have ruled Slimbridge since the sixties.

Croupier’s grandfather Nijinsky began wintering at Slimbridge in 1969. His mum Casino, at 27, was one of WWT’s longest living wild swans, safely escorting 34 cygnets from Russia to Slimbridge during her lifetime.

As Croupier demonstrates, swans live a long life but they don’t produce many young. Bewick’s swans lay up to six eggs each year on the Arctic breeding grounds but usually only one or two cygnets make it to their wintering sites in Western Europe. The stakes are high with Bewick’s swans in decline in Europe and our recent research  has shown that their survival rates have reduced.

WWT has expanded its swan research over the decades and linked up with researchers throughout the migratory swans’ range in northern Europe and Russia. Together they have managed to gain international protection for a chain of wetlands along the way that are vital for the swans to feed and rest.

Birds’ system of navigation revealed

Scientists from Bangor University believe they have revealed how some migrating birds navigate on their journeys.

One aspect of the system used by some birds has been revealed for the first time and involves detecting the declination or variation that occurs because the geographic ‘true’ north pole and magnetic north are not in the same place.

In Europe, this difference between the true and magnetic north, increases as you move from east to west.

Writing in Current Biology (August 2017), an international team of biologists, including Richard Holland and Dmitri Kishkiniev of Bangor University in the UK, explain how they identified for the first time, that mature Reed Warblers are able to detect the declination from magnetic north, and use the scale of the declination or change from true north to geo-locate themselves to a longitude, from which they orient themselves towards their autumnal migration from Russia to Africa.

Dr Richard Holland of Bangor University said: “It seems that a bird as unassuming as the Reed Warbler, may have a geographic map or memory that enables it to identify its longitudinal position on the globe, only by detecting the magnetic north pole and its variance from true north. This, combined with other external cues, which may include the strength of the magnetic field, star positions or smells enables it to locate its current position and orient itself during a long migration.”

Their work also suggested that the birds learn from experience, with immature birds struggling to navigate.

Scientist awarded posthumously for 'outstanding contribution' to conservation

The RSPB has posthumously awarded its medal to eminent scientist Dick Potts, who died at the end of March. He made a huge contribution to conservation science from the 1970s onwards, particularly through ground-breaking studies into the effects of chemicals on farmland birds, especially Grey Partridges.

His farmland bird research and conservation work was done at the Game Conservancy Trust (now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), where he was director general until 2002. The RSPB medal is the most prestigious award the wildlife charity gives out, and recognises outstanding contribution to nature conservation.

Your photos wanted for the next Hide and Beak film…

Would you like one of your photos to be featured on a Hide & Beak film? The next one, which will help promote Bird Watching magazine’s #My200BirdYear challenge, will focus on bird song. If you have any images of:
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Stock Dove
Willow Warbler
Reed Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Great-spotted Woodpecker
Great Tit
Great Bustard
Sky Lark

that you would like to see included, send them in.

  • We can accept digital files, or scans of prints, but can’t promise to use every image we receive.
  • Images should be medium to full-size, high quality Jpegs, with no obvious filters or effects applied. The files should not be smaller than 1929x1080 pixels – and ideally much bigger!
  • Along with your submission, please include your name and contact details. If you'd like to, feel free to send us a quick note about where the picture was taken and what it took to get it.

Please send your images to: birdwatching@bauermedia.co.uk with Hide and Beak in the subject line.

The film is produced in association with Zeiss and Cambridge TV.


Calling all birders and birdlovers!

Fair Acre Press is running an Arts Council England-funded project called DIVERSIFLY – it's all about people's everyday encounters with the birds that we can easily see and hear in Britain's towns and cities.

It will be creating podcasts involving some of Britain's best known poets, along with the 'Urban Birder', David Lindo.

It will also produce a full colour poetry and art book – involving well-known poets and artists, chosen to reflect the diversity of Britain's human urban populations; plus the book will also include less known, even never-before-published poets and artists from all over Britain, and from all backgrounds and walks of life.

But first, you, Britain's resident bird experts and enthusiasts, are being asked for your help to inspire the poets and artists, with YOUR descriptions of and photographs of your own everyday encounters with British urban birds.

Fair Acre's editor, Nadia Kingsley, will include these in blogs which will remain on the Fair Acre Press website during and after the project is completed.

For more details, or to send writing or photos, click here.

Results of RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

The RSPB has released the following about the results of its Big Garden Birdwatch:

Close to half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey counting more than eight million birds during the 38th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, witnessing some exciting and unusual visitors.

The event held over the last weekend in January revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings. These attractive looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every 7-8 years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia. Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were seen in around 11 times more gardens in 2017 compared to the last couple of years, with sightings as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland.

Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors. Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwing, fieldfare and brambling, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.  

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientists, said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. So to have over half-a-million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing. Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.

“In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case. Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries. With it only happening once every 7-8 years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”

There was also good news for robins, with the average number seen visiting gardens at its highest level since 1986, helping it climb two places to number seven, its joint highest-ever position in the Big Garden  Birdwatch rankings. Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 93% of UK gardens.

The survey also highlighted a downturn in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-11%), great tits (-10%) and coal tits (-14%) on last year’s figures. Dr Hayhow explained: “Numbers of small bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that the prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there are fewer to be seen in gardens.”

This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds. 

Claire Thomas, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: “This year was another incredible year for the Big Garden Birdwatch, with our favourite garden birds like starlings, robins and goldfinches, joined in the gardens up and down the country by more unusual visitors. Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds – throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter. If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing some declines.”

The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children spend an hour in nature counting birds. Blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the ninth year in succession with over 88% schools spotting at least one. The top three was rounded off by starling and woodpigeon.

Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.

For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results – www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

Reader holiday: Scottish Highlands and Islands

Dotterel – pic: Neil McIntyre

Dotterel – pic: Neil McIntyre

If you're taking part in our #My200BirdYear challenge, or just want a taste of the incredible bird life of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, join our summer 25 Scottish Specials trip, run by wildlife holiday company Heatherlea from June 17-24.

Based at Heatherlea's own three-star hotel in Nethy Bridge, in Speyside, you'll be taken to look for all the species that make Scotland a unique birdwatching location in the UK, with the help of Bird Watching assistant editor Mike Weedon and Heatherlea's expert guides.

Top birds include Capercaillie, Crested Tit, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Scottish Crossbill, Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel, Red- and Black-throated Divers in breeding plumage, and Slavonian Grebe in its own glorious breeding finery. Included is a day trip to Mull, allowing you to get great views of both eagle species, plus Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow and Hen Harrier, and throughout the trip there'll also be the chance to see the likes of Black and Red Grouse, Twite, and Corn Bunting, plus many other species, such as Ring Ouzel, Dipper and Merlin, giving a potential tally of more than 100 species during the week. Other wildlife could include Otters, Red Deer, and Mountain Hare.

In between birding, you can relax and enjoy excellent Scottish cuisine at Heatherlea's hotel. So, sign up today, and expand your birdwatching horizons with Bird Watching and Heatherlea.

COST: £1,295 per person, no single supplement, deposit of £200 to secure your place     

For a full itinerary, click here

BOOK NOW! Call 01479 821 248, email: info@heatherlea.co.uk, or visit heatherlea.co.uk

Scottish gull populations numbers decline

Gull populations on a Scottish island have suffered as a result of a declining quantity of fish landed

Research published in the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) journal Bird Study, looked at the breeding populations of Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull on the Hebridean island of Canna, and the relationship between them and the fall in the quantity of fish landed in the nearby harbour of Mallaig.

Between 1985-2000, an annual average of 13,726 tonnes of fish was landed there, but between 2007-2014, this fell to 4,456 tonnes. The number of breeding pairs of Herring Gulls peaked at 1,525 in 1988, Great Black-backed Gulls reached 90 pairs around the same time and the highest number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls was 63 pairs. 

But at the last count, breeding gulls on Canna were 95 pairs of Herring Gulls, 18 pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls and 13 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. This population decline has also been associated with low breeding success, with only a small number of chicks successfully fledging in more recent years.

Dr Viola Ross Smith, gull expert at the BTO, said: “Breeding gulls have a bad reputation, especially in urban areas, but it is worth remembering that all these species are classed as Birds of Conservation Concern, and the Herring Gull is on the Red List. It therefore seems important to identify the causes of population decline in rural colonies such as Canna, and find ways to conserve the birds at these sites, especially since gulls that fail to breed successfully are known to seek breeding opportunities elsewhere, including in towns and cities.”

Migratory birds on education agenda

Three WWT centres are offering migration education sessions to primary and secondary schools. The sessions, titled ‘How We Can Help Migratory Birds’ have been inspired by Sacha Dench’s Flight of the Swans expedition and funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery.

The sessions, held at Slimbridge, London and Martin Mere, aim to give pupils a greater understanding of migratory species, and provide them with the tools to help such species survive.

Find out more here

Photography awards open for entries

The Moors for the Future Project’s Community Science team are inviting amateur photographers to enter their national photography competition.

This year’s theme is “Water in the Uplands”, with winners selected by a panel of judges including Kate McRae.

Entries will be judged in two categories, adults and 15 and under. Prizes include a bird box camera for adults, a waterproof digital camera for the winner of the 15 and under age group. But you’ll need to hurry; the competition closes on 31 December.

For full terms and conditions and to get an entry form, click here.

Meanwhile, entries are now open for the 1st Cannock Chase Wildlife Photography Awards. The competition is intended to highlight the wealth of the Chase’s natural History, while encouraging discovery and conservation.

Entries are invited in seven categories, including Animal Portraits, Plants and Fungi, and Landscapes. There will also be a prize for the Young Cannock Chase Wildlife Photographer of the Year. The competition closes in March 2017 with the award ceremony being held in May.

The organisers are also interested in hearing from wildlife and photography firms interested in sponsoring the event. For more details go here.

Goose project is right up your street

An endangered goose is the latest bird to benefit from funds raised by the People’s Postcode Lottery. No one is sure why, but numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese have dropped by 50% over the last 17 years.

The goose, discovered by WWT founder Sir Peter Scott, is generally a long-lived bird, which makes the sharp decline even more unusual and concerning.

Now PhD student Ed Burrell, who works at WWT Slimbridge’s Conservation science department, is working on a four-year project funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery that will hopefully help to stem the decline.

Ed has already visited Iceland, an important staging point on the species’ migration route, to recce the mission.

The next stage will involve catching and tagging the geese with neck collars and GPS tags so that data can be collected as the geese migrate from their nesting sites in Greenland via Iceland, and the Hebrides to their wintering grounds in Ireland and Scotland.

By tracking the geese and closely monitoring their movements, Ed hopes to determine whether the rapid decline of the species is due to habitat changes, competition from other species, or some other cause.


18,000 The estimated number of Greenland White-fronted Geese today, compared with 36,000 in 1999

3000km The distance Greenland White-fronted Geese fly on their migration, covering the distance in two legs of two days each, with a three to four week break in Iceland between legs

Stonechat leg appeal

If you see a Stonechat, check out its legs. The Stonechat ringing project at Dersingham Bog is anxious to collate as many sightings of their ringed Stonechats as possible, so that they can ascertain both how far the species is spreading from its Norfolk breeding ground and how faithful the birds are to their territories.

The Dersingham birds are ringed with a grey plastic ring over a metal ring on one leg, and a two colour combination on the other leg.

Sightings of Dersingham fledged Stonechats have already been reported from Roydon Common, the Wash, and even as far away as Thetford Forest. If you do see any of these birds on your travels in Norfolk or further afield, you can report them at northwestnorfolkstonechats.wordpress.com

Stonechat number facts:

10: pairs of Stonechats produced 51 juveniles at Dersingham in 2015

13: pairs raised 95 juveniles in 2016. All the juveniles from both years were ringed

59,000: pairs of Stonechats breed in the UK, mainly in the west and south