Breeding Bird Survey celebrates 30 years of citizen science in Wales

16 May 2024 | No. (2024-17)

Published today, the latest BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Report looks at the fortunes of our bird populations in Wales and across the UK, and celebrates the Pearl Anniversary of a pioneering volunteer-led national study.

This press release is specific to Wales. Alternatively, view the press release for:

The report reveals that birds such as Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Red Kite are on the up in Wales. Meanwhile, numbers of Swift, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer are all falling while Welsh Curlews continue to decline at a faster rate than elsewhere in the UK.

BBS is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK's common and widespread breeding birds, producing population trends for 60 species in Wales.

During the breeding season, birds are at their busiest and wherever we may live, there will be a nest not too far away. Whether it is a Blackbird in the park or a Mallard with ducklings on the local canal, many of us can witness the frenzied activity that this season brings.

For many birdwatchers, however, this is not just a time to casually observe these annual rituals – it signifies a period of dedicated, systematic information gathering which can help shape conservation outcomes.

For 30 years, a total of 9,000 enthusiasts have been contributing essential data to the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), one of the UK’s longest-standing citizen science initiatives. The BBS is a partnership project organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

With around 200 volunteers taking part throughout Wales each spring and summer, collectively the country’s birders have provided over half a million records since BBS was launched in 1994, allowing scientists to assess any notable changes. Four of these keen-eyed contributors have been submitting their observations for the entire three decades that the survey has been running.  

The BBS, following on from its predecessor the Common Birds Census, gathers information from across the UK and helps paint a clear picture of just how well, or not, the UK’s and Wales’s common and widespread birds are faring. By analysing the collected data, scientists can see that while some birds such as Goldfinch, Stonechat, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Red Kite are faring well in Wales, others, including Swift, Curlew, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer are in steep decline. Curlews are declining across the UK, but the fastest rate of those declines is in Wales.

The reasons for these population changes are varied and the survey data allow scientists to investigate the potential drivers of change for each species. In Wales, woodland and farmland species in particular are struggling. Birds that have a high proportion of their UK population in Wales, such as Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, are not recorded widely enough for Welsh population trends to be published with confidence. Increasing coverage for these woodland species will be a focus in the coming years.

Since the start of BBS, the data have shown that Swifts across Wales have suffered significant declines of 76% since 1995 while House Martin numbers have dropped by more than half in the last ten years. For birds such as these, which rely heavily on aerial insects, any decline in these invertebrates means that there is simply less food for adult birds and their growing chicks. A reduction of breeding sites can be mitigated by the provision of artificial nesting sites, but the issue of finding a diminishing food source is much more difficult to resolve.
These birds are not alone; of the 60 species monitored by BBS in Wales, almost a third have decreased since 1995. The species with the greatest decline is Greenfinch, which has seen its numbers plummet by a staggering 79%, mostly in just a 10-year period. Red Kite is the native bird with the greatest increase, and now breeds in most counties in Wales having recovered from a tiny population in the 1930s.     

Greatest declines and increases across Wales between 1995 and 2022.
Losses % loss (1995 – 2022) Gains % gain (1995 – 2022)
Greenfinch -79 Canada Goose +596
Curlew -77 Red Kite +522
Swift -76 Stonechat +360
Yellowhammer -76 Great Spotted Woodpecker +231
Starling -66 Blackcap +183

Dr James Heywood, BBS National Organiser, said: “Wales is the most important part of the UK for some of our most threatened woodland birds. Whilst we can produce trends for these species at the UK level, we currently cannot for Wales, which has an impact on the quality of decision-making. Increasing coverage in Wales is a big focus for the scheme, in order for BBS to continue to support conservation in Wales for the long term. We extend our sincere thanks to all BBS volunteers in Wales for their dedication, particularly those who have been in it for the long haul.”

Julian Hughes, Head of Species, RSPB Cymru, said “I love visiting my two survey squares each spring to undertake the count, knowing that it helps to assess long-term changes across Wales. It’s sobering that almost a third of the well-monitored species have declined since I started my BBS counts, and so have many others that are not so well-monitored. The Nature and Climate Emergency is deepening, especially for birds such as Curlew and Yellowhammer that have already gone from many parts of Wales, and this must be a clarion call for changes to bring them back from the brink”.

Further information

Contact details

Jon Carter (BTO Media Manager)
Mobile: 07585 440910
Email: press [at] (subject: News%20release%20enquiry)

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


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Alternatively, please contact press [at] quoting reference 2024-15.

Notes for editors

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the statutory adviser to the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK and international nature conservation. Its work contributes to maintaining and enriching biological diversity and sustaining natural systems.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, protecting habitats, saving species, and helping to end the nature and climate emergency. For over a century the RSPB has acted for nature through practical conservation and powerful partnerships, campaigning and influence, and inspiring and empowering millions of people, including almost 1.2 million members.

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