Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds

Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds was published in December 2015.

Commonly referred to as the UK Red List for birds, this is the fourth review of the status of birds in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man, and updates the last assessment in 2009. Using standardised criteria, 244 species with breeding, passage or wintering populations in the UK were assessed by experts from a range of bird NGOs and assigned to the Red, Amber or Green lists of conservation concern. 

How the lists are decided

The assessment is based on the most up-to-date evidence available and criteria include conservation status at global and European levels and, within the UK: historical decline, trends in population and range, rarity, localised distribution and international importance. The lists now exclude three former breeding species, two previously red-listed, now considered to have ceased breeding in the UK (Serin, Temminck’s Stint and the once widespread Wryneck). The only new species assessed by BoCC4, Caspian Gull, went onto the Amber list.

The growing Red list

Merlin. Photograph by John Proudlock

Merlin has returned to the Red list

This update shows that many bird species are increasingly at risk. Nineteen species were red-listed for the first time due to worsening population status, and one species (Merlin) was returned to the Red list. In most cases, this is due to evidence from monitoring schemes such as BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) of increasingly severe declines in breeding populations (e.g. for Curlew, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat Grey Wagtail and Mistle Thrush), surveys of scarce breeders such as Dotterel, Black Redstart and Slavonian Grebe, or by seabird monitoring (e.g. Kittiwake and Shag). Puffin is red-listed due to its global assessment as Vulnerable.

From green to red

Two species moved directly from the Green to Red list: White-fronted Goose on account of the non-breeding population decline and Long-tailed Duck as a consequence of being classified as Globally Threatened. In addition to White-fronted Goose, three other species (Red-necked Grebe, Ringed Plover and Pochard) are red-listed for the first time due to increasingly marked declines in wintering populations, the latter also classified globally as Vulnerable. Woodcock joins the Red List, as a consequence of severe declines in breeding range. These changes increase the Red List to 67 species, more than 25% of all those assessed.

What kinds of birds are in most trouble?

Woodcock. Photograph by John Dunn

Woodcock is among 16 woodland birds on the Red list

How does the Red List break down across habitats? Despite no new additions, farmland birds still have the greatest percentage of species (12 of 26) on the Red List. Lowland wetland species have the smallest proportion: only four of 31.  Five upland birds (Curlew, Dotterel, Grey Wagtail, Whinchat and Merlin) were added, bringing the total for this habitat to 12. Three more woodland birds, Woodcock, Nightingale and Pied Flycatcher, were added to the Red list bringing the total of woodland birds to sixteen. With the addition of Kittiwake, Shag and Puffin to the Red list, the number of seabirds on the list has nearly doubled and it now includes four of the UK’s seaducks. House Sparrow and Black Restart are the only two urban species. The Red List now includes eight globally threatened species, 16 long distance migrants, three of the UK’s four gamebirds and five of the UK’s six larger thrushes.

Silver linings?

Bittern. Photograph by Jill Pakenham

Bittern moves from Red to Amber, thanks to conservation action

There is also good news. Two previously red-listed species (Nightjar and Bittern) have shown marked improvements in population status, attributed largely to sustainable forest management and targeted conservation action, have moved to the Amber list. The rapidly spreading Red Kite is another conservation success story, moving from Amber to Green. Former red-listed species such as Stone-curlew and Marsh Harrier, continue to show modest recovery in numbers and remain amber-listed. Overall, the Amber list has been reduced from 126 in BOCC3 to 96 in BOCC4 as a consequence of both negative changes (moves to the Red list) and positive changes (moves to the Green list). The Green list, now 81, includes a range of common garden species such as Blue Tit, Blackbird, and Robin, and saw a net increase of 14 species such as Little Egret, Little Grebe, Firecrest, Woodlark, Whitethroat, Wheatear and Bearded Tit. 

The full lists are available in the BOCC4┬ásummary leaflet (PDF, 1.6 MB) or the full article published in British Birds (PDF).