A brief history of the origins of Manx BirdLife

In the beginning, there was Chris Sharpe …

Chris Sharpe
Chris Sharpe

It was in 1996 that the idea of publishing an atlas of Manx birds took its first tentative steps. With the Island in a prolonged period of economic and population growth, there was increasing pressure on the natural environment. Some of the major developments of that time included environmental impact assessments in their planning processes, but there was a lack of comprehensive information to support these assessments. Chris Sharpe and his team of dedicated ornithologists and ecologists saw the need to undertake a systematic survey of the Island’s bird life.

The birth of Manx Bird Atlas
Manx Bird Atlas
Manx Bird Atlas

This led to the creation in September 1997 of the charity, Manx Bird Atlas (the original name for what is now known as Manx BirdLife). From 1998 to March 2003, Manx Bird Atlas staff and volunteers undertook a comprehensive study of the Isle of Man’s bird life. Their research spanned breeding and winter seasons, during which all of the island’s 665 1km squares were surveyed. It was the most extensive field atlas survey of its kind. The work was supported by more than 300 individual and 60 corporate sponsors, along with other Manx charities and the Isle of Man Government.

Manx Bird Atlas (Ed.1 1998-2003)
Manx Bird Atlas (Ed.1)

Despite the setback of access restrictions in 2001 (due to Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks across the British Isles), the survey work was completed on time. In excess of 626,000 records were generated during these first five years, including 120,000 records submitted by the public. The results of the fieldwork, with detailed analyses, were published in 2007 in the 389-page Manx Bird Atlas (first edition).

Towards the next Atlas (second edition)

Since the original atlas work was completed, the charity has continued to survey and monitor the wild birds of the Isle of Man. In April 2008, we renamed ourselves as Manx BirdLife in recognition of our longer term conservation aims. In October 2008, Manx BirdLife entered into a partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) with the aim of combining local expertise on the status of species and their habitats with the RSPB’s resources and know how. Together our goal is to ensure the long-term abundance and diversity of the island’s bird life.

In 2017, we aim to publish a further ten years of survey data in the second edition of the Manx Bird Atlas. This will feature comparisons and analysis against the benchmark laid down by the first edition of the Atlas.

Acknowledging the work of those before us

The conservation of wild birds on the Isle of Man owes a great debt to Chris Sharpe and his team. In turn, Chris acknowledges the tireless work and invaluable information provided by those before him. The references and acknowledgements given in the Manx Bird Atlas (first edition) reveal the passion and endeavours of many dedicated folk – professional and amateur alike – who have contributed to our understanding of the ornithological history of the Isle of Man. To them, we also give our thanks.


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