73 million birds gone since 1970 – but which have vanished near you?

11 May 2023 | No. 2023-09

The UK is home to 73 million fewer birds today than it was in 1970, according to research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) published today, International Dawn Chorus Day.

This staggering number – a decline of almost a third – is almost impossible to comprehend, but many older people will be aware of the disappearance of certain species, such as Cuckoo and
Turtle Dove, from their local area.

Alongside this headline figure, BTO has created a website so that anyone can discover which species would once have been on their doorstep but are now a distant memory,
simply by entering their postcode. 

Almost 30 million House Sparrows, 20 million Starlings, 4 million Skylarks, 2 million Blackbirds and 1 million Chaffinches have vanished from the UK since 1970, scientists found by comparing the results of BTO-led surveys from across a 50 year period. The results paint a shocking picture of loss, with familiar birds as well as rarer species disappearing from our towns and countryside at an unprecedented rate. 

The estimated losses actually total 114 million individuals (or 57 million breeding pairs). The losses are masked in part by increases in certain other species, including some familiar residents (e.g. Wren, Woodpigeon and Blackcap), and new arrivals (e.g. Little Egret and Cetti’s Warbler). The growing numbers of these species, which result in gains of c. 41 million individuals, do not compensate for the extraordinary losses overall, resulting in a net loss of 73 million individuals.

Head to https://data.bto.org/doorstep-birds to find out which species have been lost where you live.

Professor Juliet Vickery, BTO Chief Executive, says: “BTO’s wealth of data means we can confidently report this alarming drop in the UK’s breeding bird population. Presenting these results at the local level, so that anyone can see the changes that have happened on their doorstep simply by entering their postcode, delivers a powerful message that the UK’s birds are in trouble, and that we all need to do more.  

“In the last 50 years, my own area of Cambridgeshire farmland has experienced some of the highest declines of species in Britain and Ireland. I can no longer hope to hear Nightingales singing or enjoy House Martins quite literally sharing my home. Future generations may well not hear or see Song Thrushes, Cuckoos or Kestrels in the area either. We must all do more to reverse these relentless declines and we need to do it urgently.’’

Dr Rob Robinson, BTO Associate Director of Science, who led on the project, says: “Some detective work was required to assemble different sources of information, particularly as recording was more fragmented back in 1970. Counting birds on such a large scale isn’t easy and some numbers are difficult to ascertain. However, we’re lucky to have the help of thousands of highly skilled volunteers who have seen for themselves the way that birds have disappeared from UK landscapes.’’

Contact Details

Tom Stewart
 (Media Manager)
Mobile: 07585 440910
Email: press [at] bto.org (subject: News%20release%20enquiry)

Mike Toms (Head of Communications)
Mobile 07850 500791
Email: press [at] bto.org (subject: News%20release%20enquiry)

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. These can be downloaded from this link for which you will need to enter the password IDCD2023. Alternatively, please contact press [at] bto.org quoting reference 2023-09.

Notes for editors

BTO was founded in 1933 and today is the UK’s leading bird research charity. The organisation’s current strategy, covering 2023–30 was launched at the beginning of May, and will ensure its effective response to the growing biodiversity and climate crises. Although BTO is non-political and does not take campaigning positions, it is an evidence-led organisation that recognises the scale of the challenge ahead and the vital role that its volunteers, data and expertise will play in delivering positive change for birds and people.www.bto.org

Most of the data used in the project are drawn from the BTO/RSPB/JNCC Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and its precursor, the Common Birds Census, the BTO-led Bird Atlas projects and APEP 4, the latest periodic population estimates for UK birds. 

BBS is a UK-wide project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species. The BBS involves over 2,700 participants who survey more than 4,000 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of 117 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.

Bird Atlas 2007–11 was a partnership between BTO, BirdWatch Ireland and
the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club.

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