The New British List – does it affect you?! with Roy Atkins (click here for more…..)

The New British List – does it affect you?! with Roy Atkins (click here for more…..)

The British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) have just announced that from January 2018 they are going to adopt the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) List as the basis for the bird species on the British List! “Oh, my goodness!!”  I hear you shout, “that is astonishing!” ……Or maybe just… “they’re doing what?”

Let me explain…

The ‘British List’ is kept by the BOU and they decide what species have been recorded in Britain and therefore what is on the official list. BUT – as you may be aware – there is enormous debate about whether some birds are species or sub-species. For example – is there just one very variable species of crossbill in Britain, or are there three? How many species of chiffchaff have occurred in Britain? (at present, it is two.)


Chiffchaff and Iberian Chiffchaff – at least they sound different! (Andreas Trepte)

Up until now, the BOU listened to scientists who put forward papers suggesting their reasoning for why they feel there are three species of crossbill, or several species of gull that all look just like Herring Gull, but each country made its own decisions. Often the Dutch would announce that they are splitting some species or another and we in the UK would say, “Hmmmm, we should give this a few years’ consideration and debate,” before we too would follow suit several years later.



Gulls – Four species of gull that have occurred in Britain that were once all Herring Gull. In case you want to know – clockwise from top left, Caspian Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Herring Gull and American Herring Gull. Don’t try and tell the last two apart – it is impossible unless you see open wings and even then it is impossible! (Images courtesy of Gull Research)

Well, all that changes from January 2018! Now the BOU is going to follow the IOC. They have a world list of species and the BOU is to use that list from now on.

Does this sound boring? Surely not! – this affects your British List! If you keep a British List – what do you base it on? Many birders use the BOU British List as the basis of their own list – ‘you can’t tick it if it isn’t on the official British List’. This makes it fair when comparing your list with someone else’s. (Some birders get very angry about some decisions that have been made and use the Birdwatch magazine’s list instead – little rebels!)

So, what does all this mean to you?  It depends what you have seen and what you haven’t. The good news is that if you have seen the two sub-species of Bean Goose (Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose) these are now split and you just got a tick!! (Yeah!!! I’ll tell you why and how to tell them apart in a future blog). But, if you have happily ticked Lesser and Mealy Redpoll as separate species, they have now been lumped together and you lose one, (booo!!) and what is more, if you have seen what we have recently been calling Hudsonian Whimbrel in the UK – sorry, but that has been lumped back with Whimbrel again, so another tick vanishes, (booo hooo – I went miles to see that!!)

Bean Geese

Bean Geese – Tundra and Taiga – two ticks for the price of one! (Ian Fulton)

Whimbrel and Hudsonian Whimbrel

Hudsonian Whimbrel (with dark rump) and Whimbrel – well for a little while longer anyway – soon to be just two Whimbrels (Brian Field)

There are a few more – Thayer’s Gull, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Stejneger’s Stonechat and Two-barred Greenish Warbler are all elevated to species level – but these are very rare birds indeed. The gulls all stay, as do the chiffchaffs and the crossbills – so it probably won’t make a big difference to you. I think my list is one up and two down. Oh well. Maybe we should start campaigning for the splitting of Hudsonian Whimbrel again before next January! That is a species surely – are they crazy?! Guess I could go and twitch something to make up for it – I think that Pallid Harrier is still near Spurn, maybe I’ll see you there!