The origins of this Atlas lie in discussions in the mid-1990s amongst various people in Cheshire and Wirral about producing a modern avifauna. Such an enterprise traditionally has two main components: a re-examination of old records of rarities against modern-day recording standards; and comprehensive statements of present status of the birds that regularly use the county. It was clear that the casual records submitted annually for publication in the county bird report – even a top-quality one such as the Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report has proven to be, consistently rated amongst the top few in the country – do not provide a basis for a reasonable assessment of most species’ status, and that organised survey work is essential.
Early retirement in late 2001 left me (David Norman) with more free time to devote to voluntary activities, and, following informal discussions with a few interested people, in April 2003 I put a proposal to the Council of CAWOS for a project to update our 1978-84 tetrad breeding bird atlas, with the possibility of adding a winter atlas as well. This proposal, which included an offer to lead the project and write the book, was enthusiastically accepted, and the work began, with DN known as the Atlas Coordinator.
It was important to recognise from the outset that there is little history of organised bird surveying within the county, apart from that conducted by BTO members. Neither CAWOS nor its predecessor bodies had had any programme of bird surveys to engage their members, and few of the local bird clubs within the county undertake any recording work. During the planning stages of this Atlas a number of concerns were raised about the viability of the project. Three particular issues were thought by some to be potential show-stoppers: (i) there would not be enough volunteers for fieldwork; (ii) surveyors would be reluctant to ask for access to private land; and (iii) observers did not recognise habitat types and would find habitat recording too daunting. These thoughts influenced the design of the Atlas, particularly in trying to make it as simple and undemanding as possible, whilst still delivering state-of-the-art results. In practice, none of these concerns proved to be a problem. The engagement of volunteers, conduct of the fieldwork and standard of coverage achieved have all been extremely successful and substantially raised the level of involvement of Cheshire and Wirral bird recorders, surely laying the basis for future annual survey work as carried out in many other counties.