Available to all: WWT’s entire history of scientific publishing

Current WildfowlAnyone interested in conservation now has free access to the entire catalogue of papers published by WWT in its scientific journal, Wildfowl.

The new online resource is the culmination of months of work by volunteers to digitise printed copies of Wildfowl dating back to 1947, when it first appeared as the Annual Report of the Severn Wildfowl Trust.

WWT hopes that budding researchers and waterbird enthusiasts will be encouraged by opening the vaults on some of the most significant moments in ornithological history.

Wildfowl online is fully searchable, giving the work of contributing scientists a far greater reach and influence.

Dr Eileen Rees, Editor of Wildfowl, said:

“It has been a wonderful experience, re-acquainting myself with a whole host of pioneering papers, such as Peter Scott’s original formula for identifying Bewick’s swans by their bill patterns. Incredible that the study continues and this winter celebrates its 50th anniversary!

“There are so many scientists who have furthered our understanding through publishing in Wildfowl over the years but, for me, the most poignant are those that managed to get information out from behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. The birds we study range over vast swathes of Eastern Europe and Russia. It is easy to forget how that restricted our understanding of them in the early-mid 20th century, and the huge excitement as opportunities to travel in the region opened up.”

The content of Wildfowl over the last six decades reflects WWT’s pioneering approach to conservation, publishing papers on wetland habitats and aviculture as well as ornithology.

Its specialisation gave scientists space to publish studies that would otherwise have been marginalised.

Papers published in Wildfowl are still relevant today:

  • The migration of geese to staging areas and breeding grounds outside the UK were first detailed in accounts of ringing studies undertaken by Peter Scott and others in early issues of the journal.
  • Graph estimating British population of pink-footed geese from seventh annual reportPink-footed geese were ringed in vast numbers during the 1950s, during expeditions to Scotland and Iceland. Hugh Boyd’s innovative study of the data gathered revealed critical information on the geese’s lives. First, how long they lived, where they went and how many there were; and then, as time went on, changes in population were recorded for the first time. Today it’s easy to take the availability of such information on a species for granted, but then it was exceptional.
  • Formulae for the ideal conditions to hatch eggs from new wildfowl species in captivity that were published in 1983 in Water vapour conductance of wildfowl eggs and incubator humidity have formed the basis for successful missions to set up conservation breeding programmes for Madagascar pochard and spoon-billed sandpiper in the 21st century.
  • incubometerThe incubometer, a bizarre-sounding but simple device to determine the incubation stage of eggs studied in the field, was proposed in 1984. Though it didn't take off as a device, the principle behind it – that an egg’s specific gravity changes as it develops – is still widely used in the field.
  • Inter-specific differences in moult migration – the journey made by wildfowl post-breeding to a safe place to moult the flight and tail feathers – were reviewed and described for the first time by Finn Salomonsen in his seminal paper on the subject in 1968.
  • Interactions between ducks during the breeding season and their effect on the breeding colony were described by Frank McKinney in 1965 in Spacing and chasing in breeding ducks, a paper which continues to be cited widely today.
  • The first attempt to determine the evolution of geese, ducks and swans by looking at their behaviour was made by Paul Johnsgard in 1960. Johnsgard went on to publish the classic reference book “Handbook of Waterfowl Behaviour”.
  • The symptoms and pathology of Lead poisoning in wildfowl were first fully described by Peter Olney in 1960. Lead poisoning remains a threat to wildfowl into the 21st century.
  • The impact on a flock of disturbance by human activity was first measured and described by NW Owens in his 1977 paper Responses of wintering Brent Geese to human disturbance, which was prompted by early proposals for the still-debated Thames Estuary Airport.
  • Details for how to create a ‘swan jacket’ for holding Bewick’s swans calmly and safely while they are checked for health and ringed were published in 1972. The same design is widely used more than 40 years later.

wildfowl first editionThese are just tasters of the wealth of information on waterbirds and their habitats described in Wildfowl, which can be found in the journal’s archive on http://wildfowl.wwt.org.uk.

Early editions of the journal also present fascinating insights into the history of WWT, including the development of its research and conservation work, and the establishment of the captive breeding programme.

sketch of temporary hides at Slimbridge in first edition of Wildfowl

A link to the archive is also provided on the Wildfowl page on the WWT website, at www.wwt.org.uk/wildfowl-journal.

Immense thanks are due to Christine Orchard, a volunteer at WWT, for her sterling work and expertise in scanning the printed editions of Wildfowl and for using OCR (optical character recognition) software to make each of the papers searchable. That these papers are now available is also thanks largely to the efforts of WWT’s Robin Jones, who not only set up but developed and improved the look of the Wildfowl webpages, making it fully accessible to readers through the Open Journal System.