State of the UK's Birds
The state of the UK’s birds report (SUKB) every year draws together results from annual, periodic and one-off surveys to provide an up-to-date overview of the health of bird populations in the UK and its Overseas Territories.
The big story for SUKB 2013 is the publication of the findings of the Bird Atlas 2007-11 by the BTO in partnership with BirdWatch Ireland and SOC. The culmination of four years of dedicated effort by an army of volunteers, the atlas provides a unique opportunity to take stock of the breeding and wintering status of every UK species, and compare their distributions with those of 20 and 40 years ago (for breeding populations) and 30 years ago (for wintering populations).
There have been huge changes in our avifauna. Some of the more striking include the marked expansion in the range of species such as Buzzard, Red Kite, Siskin, Barn Owl and Gadwall in just 20 years. Better monitoring of non-native species has revealed big increases in many of those too, including the almost ubiquitous Canada Goose and rarer but rapidly increasing species such as Black Swan and Mandarin Duck. The bad news is that species such as Willow Tit, Whinchat and Redshank have shown dramatic range contractions, in parallel to the severe declines in abundance revealed by other surveys.
Volunteer data continue to provide the information needed to update the regular features of SUKB, a key example being the 2,500 bird surveyors that contribute to the Breeding Bird Survey and provide the information for trends for more than 100 species. This year, Whinchat joined Turtle Dove, Willow Tit and Wood Warbler in showing declines of 60% since the start of the BBS.
These and other data were also used in the latest update of the Government’s wild bird indicators. This year, there was a slight upturn in the woodland bird indicator but no improvement in the farmland bird index – still less than 50% of its value in 1970 - and both wetland birds and seabirds have shown recent declines.
Counts by volunteers at more than 2,200 wetland sites at monthly intervals for the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) provides the information to report on wintering population trends in 46 native species or populations of waterbirds including ducks, geese, swans, waders, grebes, rails and cormorants. After two decades of increases, the wintering waterbird indicator has been declining over the last decade.
The Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP) compiles annual records submitted by volunteer birdwatchers through the county bird recorder network. Some southern species continue to expand into the UK and Great White Egret was the latest addition to the list in 2012. However, residents such as Dartford Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler have suffered from severe winters in the last few years.
SUKB 2013 also reports on the latest surveys of our scarcer montane species. Dotterels, largely restricted to the Scottish Highlands, showed a 43% decline in numbers since 1999, while Ring Ouzels also declined, by 29%, over the same period. Initiatives such as the BTO’s Whats Up project in Scotland aim to improve information on many of our vulnerable upland species.
SUKB is produced by a coalition of three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – the RSPB, BTO and the WWT – and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies – Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Natural England (NE), Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).